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 Tuesday, September 16, 2014


We bought an ocean-capable boat not because we were convinced we would round the world, but because we wanted the flexibility to be able to go anywhere in the world if we wanted to. We bought a strong boat not because we were convinced we needed to test it, but because we wanted a boat with "engineering headroom" -- we wanted it to be considerably stronger than the worst we were likely to ask it to operate through.

Five years later, it turns out it's a good thing we decided to accept the various compromises that come with an ocean-capable power boat. Who would have guessed that, as we type this, we're anchored on the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia with dreams of still ranging further afield. And, looking at the other attribute we value so greatly, boat strength, it's not one we expected to test and it's certainly not one you want to test. But Dirona has done fairly well by that measure as well. We have seen no survival storms -- fortunately they are rare and modern weather reporting can avoid the worst of them except in statistically anomalous situations. But they can happen, so we wouldn't sacrifice strength for anything. Just two people out in the ocean 1,000 miles from any shore can make boat strength feel like a super important attribute even though it is seldom tested.

We have seen some tough weather but most of it was actually surprising close to shore. Ironically most boat operators are extra-careful in selecting the weather and time of year when making ocean crossings so it's little surprise that the worst conditions experienced by recreational boats are often near to shore. For us, memorable times are fully developed seas in 40 kt wind in the Gulf of Alaska with gusts as high as 59, the east coast of New Zealand north of Wellington in only 30 to 40 kts, and the east coast of Australia in the shallow coastal waters of the Tasman Sea near Brisbane in around 40 kts. None of these conditions were particular dangerous or even scary but they were onerous and sometimes a bit tiring. Having a good strong boat can transform the potentially scary to only tiring. And, there is no question, compared to the stories you hear from local fisherman and professional mariners that are out there all the time in these areas, we have seen close to nothing on board Dirona.

One notable test of the boat did happen fairly recently in attempting to cross the Wide Bay Bar south of Fraser Island on the east coast of Australia. In all the conditions we had seen prior to this event, we have managed to avoid large breaking seas. It's in these conditions where weather conditions swing from taxing to dangerous. Massive breaking seas can happen in extreme conditions, but are especially frequent where high winds meet large ocean currents (e.g. the Agulhas Current near South Africa). Fortunately, these conditions are fairly rare and largely avoidable. One place where these conditions are actually fairly common are river bar entrances. In the US, the entrance bar of the Columbia River is particularly renowned for producing harrowing conditions -- in fact, the US Coast guard trains rough water small boat handling there -- but nearly every maritime country has their example. In New Zealand, the Grey River Bar has really earned its notoriety.

River bars can be dangerous and anyone with sea experience knows to avoid them if the conditions aren't right. But, estimating when the conditions aren't right isn't as straight forward as one might think. For example, we crossed the Columbia River bar where, just 1 hour before, the US Coast Guard had it closed to all recreational craft. At the time when we actually crossed, they were only allowing boats through that were over 50'. We braced for difficult conditions but actually found it an unremarkable crossing.

Recently, when faced with the same decision here in Australia, it was clear that conditions were worse than our Columbia River bar crossing, but with the wind blowing a steady 30 to 40 kts and it being nearly 100nm to another anchorage, there is a clear appeal to crossing the bar. The conditions were not expected to improve for 3 days. Nonetheless, we'll take 100 nm in rough water over dangerous conditions all day, any day. Before approaching the Wide Bay Bar, we read all we could on the bar crossing and what to expect. We radioed Coast Guard Tin Can Bay to get the latest GPS coordinates since bar conditions can change over time and the Coast Guard often has current bar conditions. They said nobody has crossed that day but they did expect it would be rough and speculated it must be rough out where we are as well. We agreed, it definitely was lumpy. They said we might be happier in than out but neither would be easy right now.

At this point, we felt like we had all the information available on the bar crossing as we approached it from seaward. There are two aspects to sizing up bar condition from sea that make precision difficult. One, is turning around and returning to sea can be difficult and the other is the back side of waves driving onto the shallows always look much smaller than they do when looking from the landward side.

A good data point is to watch the waves beside and just forward of beside the boat. These were towering breaking waves off just 50' to the right and the same to the left of Dirona. But as we slowly inched into the shallows, there were no breaking waves across the 100'+ entrance path. The waves were big, the water was incredibly churned up further in, but the line of breaking waves had a clear gap along the entrance path. Our read of the conditions were that they were difficult but crossable and we proceeded further in. We were watching behind us as much as in front as we followed the recommended crossing path. Conditions ahead continue to look random and churned up and the waves beside us were breaking and dangerous, but we continued to work in on large but not particularly frightening waves. We keep the boat centered on the entrance path and continud to look both forward and back as we proceed shoreward. A particularly large wave was building behind us and it seems to just keep getting bigger. What was a big concern is the non-breaking section behind us was closing up on this wave and it's starting to break all the way across. Because we are traveling in the same direction as the wave, there is actually more time than you would guess to watch the non-breaking gap close up behind the boat. The wave just kept climbing as it neared us, starting to lift Dirona at the base of the wave. We rose about 1/3 of the way up the wave as it passed underneath before getting hammered by the break from above. Water power is simply incredible.

Dirona was driven back down the wave by the breaking section fast and, as we headed down, the stern very slowly accelerated more quickly than the bow and started to swing off course to the right. We now were at full throttle and full right rudder, but the stern continued to get driven around the forefoot towards the starboard side by the breaking wave from above. The boat rotated broadside into the wave, the wave continued to drive it down and the boat slowly rolled away from the wave. At this point we could hear the furniture "pouring" into the starboard side of the boat. We didn’t really feel that far heeled over but gravity definitely was creating a mess in the salon behind us. When the wave had passed, the boat was popping up, but the wave's twin was close behind and also breaking. We turned the boat back towards the shoreward path we were on earlier as the second wave hit hard from above.

As the second wave passed, we are fully upright and back on course. I was pretty confident we could continue through the random choppy seas forward and safely make it through the channel. Essentially, we're back upright, on the right track to proceed, and it appears we have seen the worst. But, there were now alarms going off all over the place inside the boat. Forward still looked better than backward at this point. I quickly checked both the main and wing engines and both were fine. I briefly though I’d I've lost steering but it was just the steering follow-up lever and the steering was fine as well. All mechanical systems were OK and, as I scanned the instrument panel to figure out where the alarms are all coming from, I said to Jennifer I think we're OK to head in with no further breaking waves appearing to be forward. We could now see that we have many bilge water alarms firing, and I knew the auto-pilot follow-up lever was no longer working. We have an old rule that has stood us well over the years: "if in difficult or dangerous situation and a systems fault occurs, abort the trip and find a safe spot to correct the issues". The logic here is that most disasters are not a single mechanical or human fault. More often than not, life or property is lost when a chain of failures happen where each builds on the other. So, very reluctantly, I swung the wheel hard over and used the thrusters to rotate the boat 180 degrees and put the bow back into the seas before the next one hit.

Understanding the source of the alarms, ensuring mechanical systems good, and making a decision to leave felt like it was a fairly long process but it was actually only the tiny space between the second and third breaking wave. The third wave broke as we rode slowly up to the top, crested, and then fell deep into the trough beyond. The boat felt perhaps a bit lethargic but, with the waves on the bow, these waves were not really much of a concern.

I also had the hydraulic emergency bilge pump on, since both the high water and the main bilge pumps had run flat out since the knockdown. By now, I'd accepted all the alarms, there was finally quiet, and things had settled down to something closer to normal. I looked down into the salon from the pilot house and the furniture was piled up in the forward, starboard corner of the salon up against the day head. Clearly there would be some damage down there.

The boat now felt fairly secure as we took the 4th breaking wave without issue and the next one looked smaller either because the over-large set had passed or we were getting more depth under us. So, I left Jennifer with the helm and ran down to the engine room to check on the bilge alarms. The bilge was completely full and the water was about 6" above the engine room floor and about 2" up onto the bottom of the main engine oil pan. Not good. I was starting to worry about where it all was coming from and whether we might have an even bigger problem. I ran back up to the pilot house to make sure all continued to be well. It was, so I went back down to the engine room and the water. The water was now down below the floor boards, leaving behind a surprisingly large amount of dirt and organic matter. I ran back up the pilot house to find things still under control, and back down to the engine room. The main bilge was now close to dry but the forward bilge drain into the main bilge was plugged with sea-born debris and wasn't making much of a dent in the forward bilge water levels. I cleaned out the drain from the forward bilge down into main bilge, and the water flowed down in seconds and was ejected just about instantly by the hungry hydraulic emergency bilge pump.

The boat now was fully dewatered by the hydraulic bilge pump. It's an absolute beast and is able to pump 100s of gallons per minute. In testing, it can send a 2" jet of water across two slips! It can pump a silly amount of water. I have always loved this piece of safety equipment but my fondness for it grew considerably over those few minutes. It was just wonderful to see the water level falling, proving it's either not a problem or, if it is a problem, the safety equipment had the clear upper hand.

The boat was now back to 100% operational. There was no water in the engine room or the bilge and even the "failed" steering follow-up lever was back and fully operational. Apparently the follow-up lever always was fine but the aft helm station had "taken control" during the knockdown probably due to sea water closing the "take control" switch contact momentarily. We ran the short distance to the Double Island Point anchorage where we joined three other boats attempting to wait out the worst of the storm. We took a safe spot in the anchorage and cleaned up the boat and inventoried the damage.

In taking stock of the situation, we were surprised to learn that our sat compass system had measured the boat over at 69.1 degrees. It really didn't feel like that much. And, I suppose, for the old sailing hands out there it really wasn't all that much -- many have seen a knockdown or two. But, as a point of reference, Dirona has never, even in the worst conditions, been heeled over more than 30 degrees so it seems like an awful long way over to us. Because the waves were breaking from so far above Dirona, we took stresses all over the boat.

The dinghy is held down by heavy-duty trailer straps, and the nylon strapping on one had parted and the dinghy had shifted in its chocks. Our aft deck furniture was folded up and attached to the starboard side of the cockpit with the same type of trailer straps. One was stretched so far, the stainless steel latch no longer closed.


The hydraulic pressure was so high in the cockpit and starboard walkway that the forward deck boarding hatch barrel bolt was bent outwards and no longer operative.


Even more surprising, the aft cockpit boarding door latch had completely sheared.  The first picture below shows the broken latch, and the second picture is after we replaced it.


Apparently when the door blew open, it then latched open. Then later hydraulic pressures tore that latch out as well.


Two of the five LED strip lights, along the starboard walkway, were destroyed by the water pressure. And the two overhead lights in the walkway filled with saltwater and failed quickly from corrosion.  


The galley flower vase, stowed in a port-side basket behind the salon furniture, shattered as it hit the starboard-side settee. And one drinking glass broke. There are three sets of scratches on the woodwork in the salon from furniture in flight. I hate seeing a blemish or two in Dirona's woodwork but, in the end, I suppose it’s nice be surveying minor cosmetic damage. There really wasn't much damage at all.


It’s unlikely, given the location of the engine intake grills (4 or 5 feet above the waterline and set to the inside of the boat in first picture below), that it was ever underwater. But we still managed to take on hundreds of gallons from the onboarding wave through the starboard intake grill. The two engine room cooling fans on the starboard side failed a day later due to sea water ingress but, throughout all this stress, everything kept working during the time of the event.


The boat popped up like a cork as soon as released by the breaking wave, everything kept running, the safety equipment did what it was supposed to do, and as soon as we were bow to the waves again, it wasn't even particularly difficult to manage even with breaking waves. The list of faults we did take is not insignificant but it feels like a bunch of minor scrapes and nicks.

We feel like the boat did really well and, as we reflect on the situation, the first things that jumps to mind is we are glad we got a strong boat. Money spent on strength sure feels well spent and giving up speed or interior space for strength feels like a bargain. The next things is that breaking waves can happen anywhere and are in no way restricted to bar conditions. Bar crossings produce them with frequency but breaking seas can be found across a wide set of different circumstances. The obvious learning is to avoid them but there may be times when you do find these conditions. Knowing how the boat manages them is important. For Dirona, the boat seems most comfortable bow into the weather in survival conditions so, if we ever do find ourselves in breaking seas in the open ocean, we will get the bow into the waves to ride it out. Looking specifically at river bars where these conditions are common, we have long known that waves appear smaller from the backside than from the landward side. So it's important to keep this in mind when assessing conditions. It's difficult to turn around fast enough in a narrow channel between big waves so it’s important to make the decision early enough. And, what we learned in this case arguably we already knew but this certainly drives it home, wave sets vary greatly in size. If there is a respectable period of non-breaking water in a channel, it doesn't mean that you won't find a larger set of waves when transiting. We would have been well served by studying this entrance for longer from seaward since breaking seas can be so dangerous.

More than anything, this experience drives home the point that can't be made often enough. If water doesn't get into the boat in large quantities, you can survive incredibly bad conditions. And, unfortunately, even very safe conditions can be life threatening if water does get into the boat. I'm an engineer at and I read extensively about engineering disasters mostly because it's my job to avoid them. Knowing how others fail can help me build systems less likely to suffer the same fault. I do the same thing around boating and read extensively about boat losses and faults. It’s absolutely amazing how many fish boats have been lost to a broken pipe underwater causing flooding, or a house door left open as the trawl door pulls the boat over, or a pilot house door open as the boat gets hit by a particularly large wave.

On Dirona, we have a policy of having the boat sealed up without windows or doors open when operating in difficult conditions no matter how hot it is. If doors were open in this event, the boat clearly may have been lost. That's the same reason we use the storm plates to protect the larger windows on longer crossings. A broken window can sink a boat in difficult conditions. We did take in 100s of gallons through the engine room air intakes but I'm not sure how I would recommend designing them better. They are very well placed on Dirona and I've had many a fisherman look longingly at our engine room intakes commenting they like the placement and height. I'm not sure how to avoid the few seconds of water ingress we did get. What I like is the water was kept away from the equipment and was quickly ejected by the emergency bilge pumps. Having silly large capacity dewatering pumps is a worthy addition to any boat. On Dirona, we have all the standard pumps, and Nordhavn is quite generous in this dimension, and we also have the optional hydraulic bilge pump and a portable Honda crash pump that does double duty as an emergency dewatering pump and fire pump.

Another policy we have, that certainly limited the damaged we sustained, is that the boat is always ready to go to sea. The few large loose items we have, such as the deck furniture, are easily stowed. We have heavy-duty latches on all appliance doors and any heavy drawers—the small push-button latches are fine for moderate conditions, but will not hold in rough seas. When we heeled over at the Wide Bay Bar, several minor items on the port-side guest stateroom berth were launched to the desk on the starboard side, skipping the floor entirely. If we didn’t have the heavy-duty latches on the large, heavy drawers underneath the berth (second picture below) those drawers would certainly have been ejected, resulting in considerable damage.


After a night in a rough anchorage with 3 other boats to sit out the storm, we woke the next day to find our 1" anchor chain snubber with ballistic nylon anti-chafe had parted in the over 50 kt gusts. But it was likely the 3' to 4' swell rolling through the anchorage that loaded the snubber to the point of failure. That morning at high tide, we went back to survey the bar conditions. There was no question they were better than they were the day earlier but, with breaks very near the channel and fairly big water across the channel, we elected to do the 100+ nm run around the north end of Fraser Island.


The Fraser Island and Great Sandy Straits area really is an amazing cruising ground and we really enjoyed our time there. One particularly interesting day, we were anchored for the night just inside the Wide Bay Bar and walked over to the other side to watch the waves pound in from seaward. Over a nice picnic lunch on a windy but sunny day, we remarked how much bigger the waves look from the shoreward side. It was exciting to watch them crash in over lunch.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014 3:04:18 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [10] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On the Water
 Friday, August 22, 2014

A little over a year ago, we worked our way south from Fanning Island, Kiribati towards Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands. We were on a long, fuel-constrained run where we would cover 2,600 nm without fueling. For most of the trip, we were heading up-current and into 30 kts of wind on the bow. The waves were fairly well-developed and spray filled the air day after day. The outside temperature was well over 80F, and the master stateroom was 88F, which made sleeping more difficult. With the doors open for ventilation, a thin layer of airborne salt soon covered the boat interior. But we were not crazy about closing the boat up and running the air-conditioning, because that consumes more fuel and would be a couple of weeks of generator run time at very low load.

As we neared Nuku Hiva, we concluded that we had far more fuel than we were going to use, so we might as well be comfortable and run the air conditioning. I'm not crazy about extended run times on the generator at under 20% load, but it'll live with it, and it was so wonderful and relaxing to finish the last few days of the crossing sleeping well in air-conditioned comfort. This convinced us we needed to find a way to air-condition the boat underway without running the generator.

In the Tuamotus, we were diving daily and just loving it. It's just amazing to look up from 140' down and be able to clearly make out our dinghy floating above us and then look down and see 150' down to the ocean floor and be surrounded by beautiful fish, sharks swimming by, and a sea turtle making a pass through the area. It was incredibly beautiful, but we found ourselves wondering what would happen if our generator failed. Without the generator, we can’t fill SCUBA tanks, can't make water, and can’t use the washer, dryer or oven. The inability to make water when that far "out there" is not at all appealing. Our goal is to never have a trip ended early or be redirected by a fault and it would be very difficult to get generator parts flown into some of the obscure, uninhabited islands we visited on this trip. We needed a backup to the generator, but really have no space for another generator on Dirona.


As we continued across the South Pacific we spent the vast majority of the time on anchor. But when we did go to a marina, the shore power was rarely better than 15A. Some of those 15A connections could only reliably deliver 12A without the breaker triggering, and in some places the shore power capacity was over-taxed by the visiting boats and, consequently was sagging badly. Also, they were often 50-cycle connections and Dirona is a 60hz boat, so we couldn’t run most 240v appliances without running the generator. We really felt we needed some way to draw what the shore power had to offer, but to not trigger a breaker and not have to manage the boat to a consumption of less than 15A. Both Atlas and ASEA offer shore power frequency converters that would handle the cycle difference, but they are expensive—friends have spent as much as $50,000 on shore power conversions—and they still don't allow running the boat well at over 25A while drawing under 15A on the shore power connection. The frequency converters didn't look like a good solution for the entire problem.


After many nights of thinking through options on passage, and planning and drawing up different solutions during the day, we came up with a solution that appears to solve all the problems outlined above. We installed the new design when we arrived in Whangarei, New Zealand and, having used it for the last year, it really does seem to nail every requirement listed above and a few more. Summarizing what the system delivers:

Backup generator: If our generator fails, we need to be able to operate all 240V appliances including the water maker and SCUBA compressor and produce up to 8kw of power, without installing a second generator. This is super important were the main generator to fail (it never has), and is also very useful for quick 240V loads like running the oven for 10 min without bothering to start the generator.

Efficient light 240v loads: Light 240v loads, such as running a single HVAC while underway, is not an efficient use of the generator. While light loads generally aren’t ideal, our bigger concern is that running the generator 24x7 increases the maintenance frequency. Changing the oil and filter every 10 days is not where we want to be.

50hz/60hz invariant: We have a 60 Hz boat, but more often than not are plugged into 50Hz power. We needed to be able to connect to 50hz or 60hz and run all appliances without restriction and not have to start the generator.

Very low amperage shore power invariant: We want to be able run all appliances regardless of draw without any restriction, without having to run the generator, and with only a single shore power connection that might be as small as 10A at 240V or 20A at 120V. Boats are getting bigger and better equipped all the time and many marina shore power systems are not up to the draw they are asked to deliver. It's not unusual to see shore power voltage drop down 20% below nominal line voltages. Voltage sags can damage equipment, so we needed isolation ensure that our equipment gets clean, voltage stable power even when the shore-side system is sagging under the collective load.

110v failover: If the 110v inverter fails and we’re not connected to 60hz shore power, we must start the generator to get 110v power. We wanted a backup for a 110v inverter failure without plugging in or starting the generator.

Battery protection for shore power loss: A big concern when leaving a boat unattended at a marina is the shore power could get disconnected, unplugged, the breaker may trip, or a variety of other mishaps could leave the boat unpowered and drain the house batteries. This is bad for the batteries and might result in other problems such as spoiled freezer food. We want the system to ride through a shore power fault by failing over to the generator, running it if needed to save the batteries, and return automatically to shore power if it comes back.

I'll start with the equipment we installed and how the different components work together to solve the requirements we have itemized above.

1) Install 240V, 60Hz Inverter: This is the most important part of the design. Install a sufficiently large inverter system such that all appliances in the boat can be run off the inverter. On Dirona, we have a 4kw inverter to feed the 110V appliances, so 6kw is sufficient to support the 240V equipment we have on board. In our case, we installed 2 paralleled Victron 3kw 110V inverters to achieve 6kw of 240V power. We particularly like this inverter choice because they are simple and don't include a charger—all they can do is invert—and are capable of delivering far more than their specification. The inverters are specified to deliver 6kw at 240V, which is roughly 25A, but they can deliver peak loads over 50A and can operate for extended periods at or even beyond their rated output without sag, over-temperature, or cutting out. They are tanks, and just keep delivering no matter what. I'm amazed to report they can start the SCUBA compressor, where the required inrush current at startup can exceed 50A. After a year of use, we just love these units. The key to making this design work is to ensure that the inverter capacity is sufficient to run the boat without restriction, using whatever combination of 240v equipment you need. So, if you chose to duplicate this design, ensure you have adequate inverter capacity. 6kw is enough for us but you can get 240V inverters in a variety of sizes up to 20kw.



2) Upgrade Ships Service Selector Switch: The Ships Service Selector switch as delivered on Dirona (leftmost of the three in the first picture below) allows the operator to feed the 240V breaker panel from either shore power or the generator. We replaced this switch with one supporting a 3rd input (2nd from left in the second picture below) so we can feed the 240V panel and all 240V appliances on the boat from 1) shore, 2) generator, or 3) inverter. This third position runs the entire house system off the new 240V inverter.


3) Install Battery Charger Selector Switch: As delivered, the battery chargers on Dirona draw power from the 240v panel. In other words, one of the 240V "appliances" are the two battery chargers. It would be a very bad configuration indeed to be running the 240V appliances off the inverter and have the battery chargers taking power from the inverter, using it to charge the batteries, which are then feeding the inverter. To support many of the use cases above, the chargers must be powered separately from the 240V panel. We want, for example, the 240V panel to be running off the inverter while the chargers are running off shore power. So we separated the battery chargers from the 240v panel and added a Charger Service Switch (leftmost of the four in the second picture above) to supply the chargers from either shore power or the generator.

An electrical diagram showing these first three modifications is below.

4) Upgrade Start Battery Alternator: The final component upgrade to complete the system is replacing the 85A start battery charger with a 190A @ 24V alternator and installing heavier cabling for this larger alternator. The house battery bank already has a 190A @ 24V alternator so, in this new configuration, we have two 190A @ 24V alternators on the main engine. With the two alternators in aggregate, we have 9kw of power generation on the main engine. But, you probably wonder why we would ever want a 190A charger on the start battery system. The original 85A alternator was arguably already far more than would ever be required. Well, it turns out that bigger is not really a problem in that a large alternator with a high quality smart regulator can produce whatever the start batteries need regardless of how low. So, having an extra-large alternator does no harm but is unnecessary. When this second large alternator becomes very useful is when we parallel the house and start alternators onto the house battery bank. In that configuration, we can produce over 9kw of charging for the house battery bank. In our standard configuration, with only a single house battery bank alternator, we have 4.5 kw of power available all the time. We can run air conditioning units, the water maker, and charge the batteries. If we need more power, we can parallel in the start alternator and have 9kw available. This is useful if we have a generator failure but there are times when it's nice to be able to charge the batteries at 300A for an extra fast charge and still be able to run the water maker or air conditioning system.


To make it easy to parallel in the start alternator when needed, we mounted a switch and warning light on the dash that closes a 200A continuous duty relay to make the second alternator available to supply the load when needed by just flipping a switch.


With these four sets of new components and changes installed, we can solve all the problems we outlined above by combining these components in different ways. Repeating the requirements list above, we'll see how each is solved.

Backup generator: The combination of the 6kw 240V inverter and the 9kw of main engine charging capability allows us to have a backup generator without giving up the space. Generators are reliable and we have never experienced a disabling fault, so it's hard to justify giving up the space for a second generator in a small boat. If we do end up needing the backup, the hours on our main will go up marginally, but the trip will be saved. It's nice to not give up space for a second generator and yet still have the redundancy protection that comes from one.

Efficient light 240v loads: There are times when you’d like to run the oven for just 10 minutes, but it's just not worth starting the generator for such a short period. The 240V inverter is happy to deliver the power and although the battery draw is high, it's short enough that it doesn't really consume that much power. It's a nice efficient way to deliver the power for short periods without having to start the generator. Another usage model is low loads when underway. A single air conditioning unit draws less than 8A. It's not worth having the generator on 24x7 and having to change the oil every 10 days if you only need a small amount of power. The combination of the 6kw 240V inverter and the large on-engine alternators allows even fairly large 240V loads to be run any time without needing to start the generator.

50hz/60hz invariant: The combination of #1 (install 240V inverter), #2 (upgraded Ships Service Selector switch), and #3 (new Charger Service Selector switch) allows the boat to be run entirely on the 60hz inverter, while dual redundant 100A @ 24V Mastervolt ChargeMaster 24/100s charge the batteries. The Mastervolt chargers will run happily on either 50 cycle 60 cycles, so the batteries stay fully charged even on 50 cycle power while the boat continues to operate at full capability as a 60hz system. We never need to start the generator to use the oven or laundry for example. The combination of the chargers and the inverter can run any appliance at any time.

Very low amperage shore power invariant: Extending on the 50hz/60hz invariant point above, we can run on shore power connections as low as 10A at 240V or 15A at 110V even though our peak draw is often nearing 30A at 240V. Because the shore power is charging the batteries and the inverter is powering the house, instead of needing the shore power to provide the peak power requirements of the boat, we only need the average requirements. Often when a hair drier comes on and, say the water heater is already on, the sudden additional 8A draw will cause the shore power breaker to disengage. This is because the shore power is insufficient to meet the peak requirements of the boat. But, if running using the battery charger and inverter pair, as little as 10A is enough to power the boat even though our draws are often approaching 30A. Shore power only needs to supply average power draws rather than peaks. It's amazing what a relief it is to not have to manage loads, worry about what is running when, and not have to go out and reset the breaker multiple times each day. Suddenly shore power "just works." And there will be times when old shore power breakers can't deliver their rated output. I've often seen 16A breakers that will pop at anything over 12A. That's fine too. We just set the charger draw to what is available on shore and forget about it, knowing we will take what we need but never more than the shore power system can provide.

Shore sag invariant: The 240V power systems in many US and Canadian marinas is actually 208V. And, when overloaded the "240" can sag down below 200V, which can damage electrical appliances. With the combination of a 240V inverter powering the house and only the battery chargers connected to shore power, the boat always sees rock solid 240V power through the inverter, while the battery chargers deal with voltage sags and other shore power problems. The Mastervolt chargers will charge on just about any voltage and frequency in the world, so it all works without exposing the boat systems to sags, spikes and other shore power related anomalies.

110v failover: Our boat has both a 240V system and 110V system. The 110V system has a 4kw inverter and, if it fails, the only way to get 110V is to plug into 100v, 60Hz shore power or start the generator. With the 240V inverter, we can still get 110V anytime without running the generator via the 240V inverter. It feeds single phase 240V to the 240V system just as the generator would and the Nordhavn standard step down transformer will just keep producing nice, clean 110V output even if the 110V inverter fails. You might ask why bother with the 110V inverter at all? It could be eliminated without giving up any advantage described here but a larger 240V inverter would be required if we gave up the 4kw of 110V inverter. If we were doing a new build today, we probably would opt for a larger 240V inverter and omit the 110V inverter entirely.

Battery protection for shore power loss: Our battery selector switch (#3 above) has 3 input options: 1) shore, 2) generator, and 3) auto. Auto is an interesting configuration. In this mode, a large 120A continuously-rated relay is used to select between shore power and the generator. If shore power is available, the battery chargers are run from the shore power system. If the shore power system fails, is unplugged, a breaker pops or any other fault causes a loss of shore power, then this relay switches the battery charger source to generator.

Since the generator is not running, you might wonder what value there is in switching to the generator. Dirona is equipped with generator auto-start so, if the batteries are discharged to 50% capacity, the generator starts, the load is brought on after 2 minute warm-up, it charges the batteries back up, the load is removed for 1 min of cool down, and then the generator shuts off again. The auto-start system is a simple extension of the Northern Lights Wavenet system. The normal use of auto-start is to take care of the batteries and ensure they get charged when needed rather than when I remember. Jennifer and I are often late getting back to the boat after shore-side exploring. Rather than allow the batteries to discharge excessively, shortening their life, the generator just turns on and gets the job done without attention. Auto-start is a personal decision where each owner needs to weigh off the risk of running a generator without attention against the risk of allowing the batteries to discharge. Our take is well-maintained equipment works well and, just as most people wouldn't think twice of having their furnace kick on to prevent frozen pipes when they are not at home, we think auto-start is good for the boat. Even if you don't decide to install auto-start, the Northern Lights Wavenet system is strongly recommended. We love it.


The combination of the "auto" position on the Charger Selector Switch with generator auto-start/stop means that if something goes wrong with the shore power, the generator will start a day or so later, charge the batteries up, and then shut down and wait for when needed again. If the shore power comes back, it switches back to shore power and uses it again. We will also get email notification if the shore power gets disconnected and there are on-board alarms that signal this event but it's still good to have backup to protect the nearly $8,000 worth of batteries.

Even if we weren't cruising in 50hz countries, or remotely, where a generator failure would be difficult to deal with, we'd still install a 240v inverter. In fact, we've become so dependent on the system that we're considering getting a spare. In the past, we needed to run the generator underway or at anchor to make water, do laundry or for baking. We now only run the generator at anchor, either to charge the batteries or for extended large 240v loads. The 240v inverter and either shore power or the main engine can handle the rest. A shore power connection anywhere in the world is now effectively the same as if we were in the US, with the added advantage of isolation from low or sagging supplies. And having air conditioning while underway in hot weather is wonderful.

Thursday, August 21, 2014 11:30:24 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [18] - Trackback
Nordhavn | Ongoing
 Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Our next-door neighbors, Mark Mohler and Christine Guo of Nordhavn 62 Gray Matter, recently upgraded their davit to support hydraulic power-rotation. The base came off in two pieces, but is much easier to put back together at the shop. The downside is a heavy assembly: the upgraded base, with the power rotation transmission and motor, weighed just under 500 pounds. They'd need a crane to install their crane.

Our davit easily can lift the equipment, but doesn't have enough reach across the finger pier between the two boats. Luckily, the slip on the other side of Gray Matter was empty, so we backed Dirona around to put our stern adjacent to their bow with no finger pier in between.


With our davit fully extended, we were still a little short of reaching the mounting point on the centerline of Gray Matter's bow.

With some extra fenders in place, Mark carefully released his bow lines to inch the boats closer together.


Wednesday, July 02, 2014 4:05:59 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [4] - Trackback
Nordhavn | Ongoing
 Saturday, May 31, 2014

Earlier this week, Nordhavn 5267 arrive into Brisbane from Xiamen, China on board the freighter AAL Hong Kong. Owners Natalie and Oz Bestel watched from the chase boat and shared these pictures of the delivery. 


The offloading reminded us of Dirona's delivery back in 2009, except of course the temperature was in the 70s in Brisbane, instead of 28F in Seattle, and Don Kolhman didn't need to dive into 45F water in his skivvies to free a snagged sling. 



Below, 5267 is underway for the first time in Australian waters. The 52 model is selling well right now, and after having put over 4,400 ours on ours, we think it should. Dirona is the perfect size for travelling the world, and matches our goal well of being the smallest boat we could comfortably do that in. 


Docking at Rivergate Marina, where we recently cleared customs. The boat sure looks beautiful, and appears remarkably clean after that long ocean voyage. 


Here's a short video of the unloading. Another Nordhavn 52 is born! 

Saturday, May 31, 2014 3:51:43 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [3] - Trackback
 Friday, March 28, 2014

When we traveled from Fiordland to Stewart Island earlier this month, we rounded Southwest Cape, our first of the five great capes. The other four are Southwest Cape, Tasmania; Cape Leeuwin, southwest Australia; Cape of Good Hope, Africa and Cape Horn, Chile. We also reached 47 degrees 2 minutes, the farthest south we will be in Dirona for a very long time. Of the five great capes, only Cape Horn is farther south at nearly 56 degrees latitude. For those of you familiar with the Seattle area, 47 degrees south is as far south as Olympia is north. From Harvard Glacier in Prince William Sound, at 62 degrees 16 minutes north, Dirona has now traveled across 109 degrees of latitude. That's getting to be a good slice of the globe.

Dirona at Harvard Glacier, Prince William Sound

We also recently reached our most westerly location so far: 166 degrees 24 minutes East, between Dusky Sound and Chalky Inlet in Fiordland. Our most easterly position so far has been 117 minutes, 1 degree West, at the Port of Lewiston in Idaho. This also has been our highest location in Dirona as well, at 738 feet above sea level, after passing through the eight navigable dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

Entering the Lower Granite Lock and Dam, the final navigable dam on the Snake River, to reach 738 feet above sea level.

Shortly before arriving at Stewart Island, we crossed 4096 hours on the main engine. In four years, that's the number we had put on the previous boat in nearly eleven years. Almost half of those hours were put on in the past 18 months. Since leaving Seattle on September 7th, 2012, our main engine has run for 1960 hours without a hiccup, and consumed 13,455 gallons of diesel at an average speed of 6.9kts. We've traveled 13,987 nautical miles with an average fuel economy of 1.04nm/gallon. We need to, and do get, much higher fuel economy at sea, but we tend to sacrifice fuel for speed when operating in coastal cruising mode.


As we prepare to leave Stewart Island for "New Zealand" (as the Stewart Island locals refer to the rest of the country), we're in the rare situation of having more water on board than fuel: we're down to 353 gallons of diesel. Since our last fuel stop in Wellington, we've traveled 1,265 miles and the main engine has consumed 1,154 gallons. At an average speed of 6.4 knots, our fuel economy was 1.1nm/gallon. Because we've been so far long out of port at over eight weeks, the generator will have consumed a fair amount of that fuel. During this period, it's run 294 hours. And because we've dropped and raised anchor as many as three times in a single day, exploring Fiordland and Stewart Island, the wing engine that runs our hydraulics has run for 46 hours. We expect to arrive in Dunedin, where we will refuel, with only 150-200 gallons remaining--the tanks haven't been that low for several years. It's been a great experience to be out using the heck out of our boat for eight weeks and be pulling into port with everything in perfect operating condition.

A special dinner of Peppercorn-Crusted Beef Tenderloin to celebrate rounding Southwest Cape and reaching 47 degrees, 2 minutes south.

Friday, March 28, 2014 1:21:52 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [4] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On the Water
 Saturday, December 21, 2013

We love Whangarei. It's a beautiful town, we enjoy the restaurants, and we have the primo spot in the Town Basin Marina in front of Reva's restaurant. Another advantage of Whangarei is you can get great service work done at reasonable prices. A broad selection of trades is available in Whangarei and that is a big part of why we ended up coming here. Dirona needed bottom paint, zincs, and other service items and, for that work, we selected Norsand boat yard. Getting a boat lifted out of the water and work done on it is always a bit of a stressful process in that mistakes are always possible. Norsand are professionals and the work done was excellent.

The combination of good availability of chandleries, specialized engineering firms, and specialist in hydraulics, filters, fasteners, etc. make Whangarei a great place to get boat projects done, so we decided to take on a few additional jobs. An important one was the replacement of our house battery bank after one battery suffered thermal runaway. The bank is five years old, which is arguably early for replacement. But they have done far more than the manufacturer-estimated 1,000 cycles down to 50% charge lifetime, so we can't complain too much.

Sourcing the batteries yielded some surprises. We needed eight Lifeline GPL-8DL and, when buying in that number, price is important. The quotes we were able to get around New Zealand were very fairly uniform around $1,175 NZD (about $980 USD) per battery. Almost all quotes were for the standard New Zealand retail price, without any discount for buying eight batteries and spending more than $9,400 NZD in a single purchase. The US quotes for eight batteries were just over $625 USD per battery--more than 35% less. We expected that the cost of shipping a half ton of merchandise, however, would exceed the price advantage, so our natural inclination was to not even consider shipping them.

The interesting lesson here is that shipping can be amazingly cheap. The batteries were shipped from DC Battery Specialist in Florida to Auckland New Zealand for only $553.18 using sea freight. The disadvantage of sea freight is it is slow, taking just a bit more than 30 days, but it is incredibly cheap. We prefer to buy locally when we can but, in this case, we saved just over $2,000 purchasing batteries in Florida. The local installation was done expertly and carefully by McKay Marine Electrical of Whangarei.

On the day the batteries were scheduled to arrive, we emptied all non-fixed items from around the banks in preparation for the install. We had a huge amount down there--the contents practically filled the cockpit.


We took advantage of having the lazarette emptied to give it a good scrub-down. Six of the batteries (banks two, three, and four), are in the aft section of the lazarette, pictured above. The other two batteries (bank one) and the start batteries are port-side in the forward section of the lazarette, in a cabinet to James' right in the picture below.


When the batteries arrived later that morning, the truck driver dropped the pallet off just behind the marina office. So far, so good. The batteries looked correct and without damage after their trans-ocean crossing. The next problem was how to get the half-ton of batteries (8 at 156 pounds each) from the parking lot to the boat. Jennifer has a rule, admittedly violated when moving our 135-pound Mirage M-3si speakers years ago, that she won't help move something that weighs more than she does.



The Whangarei Fire Department came to our rescue. Two trucks just happened to be here, and the firemen offered to carry the batteries down for us so long as they didn't get a call. They made quick work of the job, and seemed to be having fun with it--certainly more fun than we would have had. And the emergency call did come in, right after they'd finished the hard work.


In the first photo below, James and Ben Haselden of McKay are sliding out the six aft-most batteries that make up banks two, three and four. The second photo shows the area after the batteries have been removed.


A large void area is underneath the batteries, but unfortunately the only access is through the top where the batteries sit. This is an unfortunate waste of space--we might put in an access panel at some point.


Because we can switch each bank on and off independently, a nice design on Nordhavn's part, we were able to do the whole job without having the boat's power down for more than a few minutes: bank one supplied power until we had replaced and enabled bank four. After Ben slid in two of the new batteries for bank four, James hooked them up and enabled that bank so we could disable and remove bank one. Standing next to Ben in the third and fourth photo below is Ben's manager, Denis Crene (pronounced "crane") of McKay, who came down to help with the job. Denis amazingly could lift one of those 156-pound batteries from the lazarette and up to the deck on his own--he says it's no accident his last name is Crene.



All eight new batteries installed:


The final result, with the banks labelled and the lazarette equipment all back in place:


McKay disposed of the eight old batteries for us. From battery arrival to final disposal, the entire job took only three hours. Shipping took just over a month, but we weren't in a rush and the total price was much more economical than sourcing the batteries locally. When looking at purchasing options, don't rule out sea freight as an ingredient in the solution.


Saturday, December 21, 2013 12:03:45 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [5] - Trackback
Nordhavn | Ongoing
 Monday, December 09, 2013

Nordhavn delivers an unusually complete fuel manifold with far more flexibility than most production boats. In fact, the manifold is sufficiently complex that some new owners can find it difficult. More than once, I've heard of an owner accidentally closing the return path for the main engine or generator, leading to fuel leaks or, worse, engine fuel pump failure.

Even with the unusual flexibility offered by the Nordhavn fuel manifold, we found it didn't do some of the things we wanted it to be able to do so we made fairly substantial fuel manifold modifications on Dirona. Some of these modification were driven by us extending some of the applications of the manifold and some were driven by us operating the fuel systems a bit differently from some. Let's start first with how the standard manifold works, look at the most common operating modes, and then at the manifold changes we made and why.

Most Nordhavns come delivered with a separate day tank to feed just the get-home (also called wing) engine. One of the most common causes of diesel engine fault is dirty fuel, so having a separate fuel tank where no fuel is even placed there unless first proven to be good via use for days in the main engine adds considerable security. The wing engine has a separate, known clean fuel in addition to its own mechanical control system, transmission, prop shaft, and prop. It shares almost nothing with the main engine, reducing the likelihood of a correlated main and wing failure.

In addition to the day tank feeding the wing engine, there is a supply tank which feeds all other engines on the boat. The supply tank is always the fuel source for the engine(s) and generator(s). There are also multiple bulk storage tanks. On Dirona, we have two side tanks of 835 gallons each, a supply tank of 65 gallons, and a day tank of 15 gallons. The day tank feeds only the wing engine, and the supply tank feeds all others engines and generators. The bulk tank contents are moved into the wing or supply tanks prior to using the fuel.


The picture above shows the fuel transfer manifold on Dirona when it was delivered in early 2010. It's similar in functionality and design to the manifold delivered on most Nordhavns, although many have more tanks, engines, and generators. The lower manifold is the transfer manifold and the upper is the return manifold. All engines, except the wing, draw fuel from the supply tank and return it to the return manifold. The fuel transfer pump sources from the transfer manifold (the lower one). This transfer manifold selects which tank the transfer pumps draws from. The return manifold gets the output of the transfer pump and the return from all engines except the wing. It's this manifold that sets which tank the return goes into. Understanding how the systems are laid out, let's look at how they are typically used and why some of our usage models are different and the design extensions we implemented to support these other operating modes.

The most common operating mode for Nordhavns is to choose one of the bulk fuel tanks to draw fuel from and to open the valve at the bottom of that tank to gravity feed into the supply tank. The return manifold is set to send return fuel back to the supply tank. Since the supply tank bottom is below the bulk tank bottoms, the supply tank won't run out in this mode. As the fuel draws down, the selected bulk tank gets lighter and the boat will eventually start to list away from it. At that point, the gravity feed from the first selected bulk tank is closed and another is opened on the other side. This keeps the supply tank full and keeps the boat relatively well trimmed.

To further improve the trim, some owners chose to have all the bulk tank gravity lines open. This has the advantage of pulling them all down equally but there are two downsides: 1) you might want to more more fuel on one side to correct a list (perhaps the dinghy is down) and 2) having tanks on both sides of the boat connected allows fuel to move side-to-side which isn't ideal from a stability perspective. Consequently, I don't recommend running with more than one of the gravity feed lines open at a time.

Another variant of the single-gravity-feed-at-a-time model is to return fuel to the bulk tank that is currently gravity feeding into the supply tank. The tanks will all run at the same levels in this mode of operation, and it can allow cooler operation. Here's why. The bulk of the fuel the engine draws from the supply tank is not consumed, but is used to cool the injectors and other fuel parts and the warmer fuel is returned. If just the supply tank fuel load is in circulation, that fuel will heat up. Whereas, if the entire bulk tank and supply tank fuel load is in circulation, there is much more fuel and much more fuel tank surface area to cool and the fuel will run cooler. Modern engines measure fuel temperature and take into account changes in temperature when computing the amount to inject, and cooler fuel does allow just slightly more power. This mostly is irrelevant but just barely useful enough that, if you do chose to gravity feed as most do, I recommend transferring back to the bulk tank that is currently gravity feeding rather than directly back to the supply.

We chose to not gravity feed to the supply tank even though, as described above, this is an easy to manage and reliable way to operate the fuel system, and it would keep the fuel cooler. Instead we chose to explicitly pump fuel from the appropriate bulk tank to the supply tank every four hours rather than gravity feed. This is a slightly more manual operating mode but has some advantages that we really like. The first advantage is if there is a leak on the engine, at the filters, or in any of the fuel lines, you can't possible loose more than the volume of the supply tank. If you are gravity feeding, you could lose the entire bulk fuel load and could end up out of fuel and risking environmental damage via a large fuel spill. Avoiding this is important any time but even more important when doing long ocean crossings sometimes more than 1,000nm from the closest shore. Having no fuel when days from shore could really be a disappointment.

The second advantage of the explicit fuel transfer system is all fuel has to pass through the transfer filter before it gets to the supply tank. Given the uncertainty of fuel quality world-wide, we really like a layer of filtering prior to the fuel even getting to the supply tank. The combination of keeping the bulk fuel locked up and safe from leaks and the additional layer of filtering makes this operating mode important to us. It is a bit more manual work but it feels worth it. This is the source of the first fuel system modification we made. The standard fuel pump, a Walbro 6802, is incredibly slow at 43 gallons per hour. In fact, so slow that this way of operating the boat can be frustrating. So we replaced it with a Jabsco VR050-1122 pump capable of 822 gallons per hour.

Like many modifications, when you make one change, it can drive others. To accommodate the transfer rate of this pump, we needed to go with a much larger transfer filter. We went with Racor FBO 10, pictured below, which is commonly used in bulk transfer commercial fuel management applications. This filter has the advantage of supporting large transfer rates but it also has large filtration area so few filter changes are needed.


One of our goals is to be able draw fuel from the supply tank and return it to the supply tank while polishing one of the bulk tanks. The standard manifold design doesn't support this. The engine return goes to whatever tank the transfer pump is returning into. Unless you are gravity-feeding, polishing one of the bulk tanks while underway has the downside of the supply tank being completely pumped out every 30 to 60 minutes and runs the risk of running the main engine out of fuel. So we made manifold changes to support what we wanted.

Dirona's manifold pictured at the top of this post supports many extension from standard. The first to address the issue we just brought up. If you look closely you'll see that we can polish fuel from a bulk tank back to the same bulk tank but still direct the main engine fuel return to the supply tank. There is a bypass that runs between the engine return and the supply tank fill that allow the main engine to return fuel to the supply tank while still being able to polish fuel in any other tank. This bypass hose can be seen running through a valve on the right side of the manifold.


Another addition we made to the manifold is provision to drain pump out of the supply tank. We have added a hose from the bottom of the supply tank into the transfer manifold allow the supply tank to be polished if a fuel problem is encountered. It also allows the supply tank to be pumped out if there is a need to service it or some of the fuel lines in that area. Because we can pump out the supply tank, and the supply tank is below the wing tank, we can actually pump out the wing tank as well by first pumping the supply tank level to below the bottom of the wing tank and then opening the wing and supply return manifold valves and allowing the wing tank to drain down into the supply tank. We think it is super important to be able to pump out, service, or re-filter the fuel in any tank and especially the wing and supply tanks. These changes allow the supply tank to be directly polished underway and supports draining the wing and supply tanks if needed.


The next extension is to allow Dirona to carry more fuel in those rare times when greater range or higher speed over long distances are needed. Dirona as delivered is capable of around a 2,400nm range and this is more than enough for 99% of all she will ever do. However, there are times when very long crossings are planned or when we want to run faster on a passage that is within range. The nicest solution is to put more tankage on Dirona but it's impractical to install more and it's probably not worth the space compromise that has to be paid every day for the entire life of the boat just to get more range or speed on a long crossing. You may only need this greater range every few years and yet more tankage take up more space all the time. Our solution is to run on-deck fuel tanks when we do want to run more or ran faster. This is more of a hassle but, since the extra fuel is rarely needed, it feels like a better answer on a small boat than giving up more space inside the boat. Our longest run has been 2,600nm , and having more fuel made this much more practical. But, in five years, we have only needed this additional capacity once and only used it twice. On-deck fuel bladders are a good compromise when you don't want to give up more space and very rarely need more fuel.

To make the bladders easier to manage, we have a bulkhead fuel fitting in the cockpit plumbed into the fuel manifold at bottom left (and pictured above). When we install the bladders, we install a short length of fuel hose between the bladders and the bulkhead fitting using cam lock snap fittings. This allows us to drain the bladders without going on deck and without having the fuel intakes open to potential water ingress. When we are ready to draw them down, we just turn on the fuel transfer pump, select the tank we want to pump into, and the transfer pump quickly does the work. This has the added advantage of putting all bladder fuel through a filtration phase before bringing it into the fuel tanks.


We've mostly gotten good fuel, but there have been a couple of times over the last fifteen years when we've bought some expensive water, or picked up some fuel with lots of foreign matter. We buy fuel all over the world and the good news is that bad few is fairly rare. But it does happen. Our defense against it is mass filtration with lots of spare filters. The way we use the boat, fuel will be filtered at least four times before reaching the engine injection pump: 1) through the transfer filter to the supply tanks, 2) through the primary filters to the main engine, 3) through the first on-engine filter, and 4) through the final on-engine filter. We have a lot of filter spares on board, with more than 40 of our primary filters stored away. If we get bad fuel, we probably have the filtration to be able to manage the problem.

The final issue is complexity and human error. Nordhavns have very flexible fuel transfer systems but with flexibility comes some complexity. On Dirona, we have extended the design but, with those extensions comes some additional complexity. It's hard to avoid. And where there is complexity and potential tired boat operators, mistakes can happen. The most common mistake is to close an engine return valve or close the return manifold tank connection. This causes the running engines to not be able to return, which will very quickly lead to leak or pump failures. You can disable an engine quickly this way. Another mistake is to accidentally pump fuel overboard.

We battle complexity and potential error every way we can think of, including posting the fuel transfer diagram at the manifold and having all valves brightly and clearly labeled. We have also calibrated the sight gauges in our all our tanks and installed redundant digital tank level monitors. We have installed a digital fuel transfer timer and both calibrated it and labeled it for the number of gallons transferred per minute. So, if you are moving 17 gallons, you can see exactly how many minutes of transfer time is needed, substantially driving down the risk of mistake. But it is still possible. To catch mistakes in either direction, we also have digital level indicators on all tanks, a high-level alarm on the supply tank, and low level alarms on the wing and supply tanks.


Finally we label all fuel transfer valves as normally off or normally on to make it clear where they should be in normal operating mode. But, even this isn't enough. In a storm with only two people on the boat, there is a risk of getting tired. And, if there is a fault at the same time, mistakes get harder to avoid. So, we tie-tag all valves open that need to be open to avoid the blocked return problem described above. The only way to close a valve that could hurt an engine is to go and get wire cutters and cut the tie tag off.


All these design changes give Dirona a flexible system that can polish fuel while operating at sea, can't lose all the fuel in a fault, supports easy service, and helps manage human error while still offering a fairly flexible system.

Monday, December 09, 2013 10:56:47 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [13] - Trackback
Nordhavn | Ongoing
 Wednesday, November 06, 2013

One of our eight Lifeline AGM GPL-8DL batteries recently went into thermal runaway, and we've had a few questions on the nature of the problem and why we chose to replace the full house battery bank.

The lazarette smoke/CO alarm had gone off at 3am, and upon investigating we found a rotten egg smell (hydrogen gas) and a lot of heat in the lazarette, with water dripping from the ceiling. We dug around a bit more and found two batteries were at 170F on the outside of the case, and probably well over 300F inside. A normal battery temperature on our boat is around 80F. Two of the batteries were boiling their electrolytes out--one of our eight batteries had gone into thermal runaway and taken its pair with it.

A nice Nordhavn design feature is to have battery isolation switches for every pair of batteries. We can turn a switch to isolate the failed pair, and the boat continues to operate fine, just with less house battery capacity. That night, we turned off battery pair #3, ensured the batteries were cooling, and went back to bed. The following morning they were still at 131F. One question sent to us was what if that had happened at sea? We would probably  have seen it sooner with more frequent engine room and lazarette checks, but otherwise there would be no difference: we'd just turn off the battery pair isolation switch.

All our chargers are multi-step smart chargers. They go through three phases: 1) bulk charge where current is as high as can be delivered and the voltage rises as charge goes up until it hits a max of 28.6V, 2) absorption where the voltage is held constant at 28.6V and current drops as the battery gets more full, and 3) float where the voltage is maintained at 26.6V. These voltages are assuming 77F batteries. The battery problem occurred while on float charge.

Thermal runaway can occur in most battery types including flooded lead acid, valve regulated lead acid, and even non-lead/acid designs such as Lithium-Ion. The general condition is when increased temperature cause more energy to be released which yields yet more temperature and a feedback loop develops. In flooded lead acid batteries, this can be caused by plate warping or plate material sulfating, and sloughing off to the bottom of the battery. The warpage or sloughed off plate material can cause a plate-to-plate connection, which generates heat, which leads to more warpage, more current, and more heat. Absorbed Glass Matt (AGM) batteries like our Lifelines are not prone to plate shorting from sloughed off plate material, and plate warpage causing shorts is not a common fault, but they still can suffer from thermal runaway. Fortunately, it’s not a very common failure mode. Usually batteries just get old, lose capacity, and quietly fade away. But, thermal runaway does happen and, when it does, the energy released is somewhere between amazing and scary.

Dirona's Lifeline AGM batteries are rated for 1,100 cycles down to no less than 50% charge. They have seen far more than that, so we were getting close to replacement time anyway. We could just change the two damaged batteries since the rest continue to operate fine. But, with the use they have had, the bank was due for replacement some time back. We expected that we'd need to change them in Hawaii, but they tested fine at that time (using a Midtronics MIDMDX-640 Digital Battery Analyzer).

We now need eight Lifeline GPL-8DL batteries that list for a booming $8,264. And they are 156 lbs each, which each means we'll be changing a half ton of batteries. With one string of two batteries disabled, we are down to 75% capacity but otherwise there is no change. So fortunately we don't need to be in a rush to replace them.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013 3:53:45 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [2] - Trackback
Nordhavn | Ongoing
 Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Last Friday we hauled out at Norsand Boatyard in Whangarei, New Zealand for bottom paint, zinc replacement and other minor work. This was the first time Dirona has been lifted on a rail-trailer, where the boat is pulled ashore while it rests on a track-mounted trailer. All other times we've used a TravelLift, that lifts and carries the boat on two straps around the hull. TravelLifts are much faster for the yard, but the rail-trailer might be easier on big heavy trawlers in that the weight is more evenly distributed along the keel, and the sides of the boat don't take load. And there was an incident a few years ago where a Nordhavn 47 was destroyed when the TravelLift sling parted durin the lift. This isn't a design failure with the TravelLift, but it shows no lift mechanism is without risk. Having experienced both haulout systems, either appears to work well with experienced operators.

The haul-out area is tide-constrained, so much so that when we explored the area by dinghy at low tide, we couldn't find more than 1.7' of water. All haul-outs are done at high tide. We first tied off to a small dock below the ramp, where the Norsand crew ran lines ashore bow and aft. The wind was blowing 25 knots, so they held one the upwind stern line with a forklift.



With the lines in place, we moved the boat forward into the trailer-mounted cradle that Norsand had pre-prepared to match our hull. Once Dirona was in the cradle, some final adjustments were made to ensure a secure hold, including adding some blocks on each side.



At that point, everyone disembarked and the trailer was pulled slowly up the ramp. The entire assembly is pulled up using a hydraulic winch the size of a car, which began life on the back of a tugboat running the tow line. The power for the winch comes from the wheel loader you can see below. The hydraulic pump on the wheel loader drives the winch. The second picture below is looking towards the winch from the trailer after the while loader has moved away.


Here's a video photo sequence of the entire process:


Tuesday, October 29, 2013 12:53:48 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [2] - Trackback
 Sunday, April 21, 2013

We arrived in Baie de Taihoae on Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia, 31 days and 2,550 nm after leaving Honolulu (trip log map). We had stopped at Palmyra Atoll and Fanning Islands for 11 days, for a total of 20 days at sea. We left Honolulu with 2,350 gallons of diesel and consumed 1,964 gallons en route, 1,864 to the main engine and about 100 to the generator.

Conditions were mostly in our favor on the 950-mile run from Hawaii to Palmyra, but were against us on the 1,394-mile run from Fanning Island to Nuku Hiva. On that last leg, the wind blew steadily on the bow 15-25 knots, typically around 17 knots, with an opposing current of 1.0 to 2.3 knots, mostly in the 1.7-knot range. Overall, our average speed for the entire run was 5.61 nm/hour with a fuel economy of 4.13 gph or 1.36 nm/gal.

To clear into the country, we had worked with an agent, CMA CGM Papeete. This helped in several ways. First, non-EU citizens must either post a bond equivalent to return airfare home, or purchase a refundable ticket in order to enter the country by boat. CMA CGM provided a bond exemption so long as we had proof of health insurance and that the insurance would cover the costs of flying us back home in an emergency (our Divers Alert Network travel insurance was sufficient). Second, diesel fuel can be purchased duty free, but the exemption must be processed in Papeete. CMA CGM's local agent got us cleared through the day we arrived and we received our fuel exemption the day after. Third, we needed to pre-order with the local fuel dock in Taiohae for large quantaties of diesel, as they only have a 13,200 gallon capacity and we'd use 10% of their fuel. And finally, while Jennifer can speak a bit of French, having someone to help with translation was useful as well. Coralie Mante of CMA CGM Papeete was very responsive and helpful in preparing for entry, and Kevin of Yacht Services Nuku Hiva was fast, efficient, and friendly in processing us on arrival.

We took on 1,170 gallons of diesel at the fuel dock, but could have taken 1,364. They were short on fuel, so we couldn't quite fill. Tying up to the fuel dock was interesting. The fuel dock has a cement wall and the surge was substantial, so a side-tie risks damaging the boat. Instead, boats needing small amounts of fuel often ferry them by dinghy in jerry cans. Those needing larger amounts typically med-moor to the wall, where the boat is anchored and backed into the dock and tied standing a few feet off the wall. In the picture below, we've got a 75-foot line from each stern corner to a bollard ashore, and a large Aere inflatable fender protecting the swim platform. The fuel hose runs from the dock, over the swim platform and into the cockpit.

Sunday, April 21, 2013 7:30:28 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [4] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On the Water
 Sunday, January 06, 2013

We've always maintained our boats with minimal bilge water and kept the bilges clean so the engine room doesn't smell. We check the bilges as part of our regular engine room checks, so we can spot water leaks right way if the level increases, and mechanical leaks are obvious if an oily sheen forms on the bilge water surface. Despite having our previous boat for thirteen years and not finding all the water leaks, neither one of us can figure out why there needs to be an inch of water in the bottom of the bilge.

We have a dripless packless-shaft seal, instead of the conventional stuffing box that drips water by design, so we have no regular drips of water into the bilge. Most are just the minor leaks that occur in most boats. They can be hard to find, however, as many show up only in rough water where we can't be out investigating the source of the leaks. Still, it seems that we ought to be able to find and fix them all. In measuring the bilge water with a total-dissolved solids (TDS) meter, we found it was a mix of fresh and saltwater. Not all was coming in from the sea--some must be coming in from rainwater or boat washing, as our freshwater tank wasn't losing any water.

Over the past three weeks, we decided to go after the leaks more seriously to try to get a dry bilge. Here's what we found:        

  1. The cockput gunnel gangway socket drain runs into bilge        
  2. The cockpit shower door leaks water in rough seas into the starboard aft cockpit locker        
  3. Vents on the starboard aft cockpit locker door leaks water in rough seas       
  4. The hatch from the cockpit to the lazarette leaks a bit of water in rough seas
  5. The propane locker drain hose leaks into the lazaratte at the entry to the locker and at the thru-hull        
  6. The thru-hull for the propane locker drain has no ball valve and plastic connection are in use       

The gangway socket drain accounted for much of the freshwater in the bilge water. Every time rain fell, or we washed the boat, that socket would fill with fresh water that would run into the bilge. But boarding seas would bring saltwater in as well. Instead of draining into the bilge, we installed a small thru-hull in the cockpit below the socket to exhaust into the cockpit.



To seal the cockpit shower door, we fitted it with insulating foam. We'd already installed a piece of marine board sealed with 5200 marine adhesive over the leaking vents in the cockpit door, but the door is somewhat curved and the marine board had lifted away slightly. So this time we built a gasket from non-skid shelf liner to put between the vents and the marine board, and sealed that with 5200.



We weren't bringing much water in through the hatch from the cockpit to the lazarette, and only in heavy seas, but enought to be irritating. Tightening the door didn't completely solve the problem so we replaced the gasket with a different design. The original was rather rigid and we felt one with a hole through it that could compress more would work better. We'd mentioned this to Don Stabbert, whose boat Starr is docked nearby. Don dropped off a large bag of gasket samples and later a supply of one that we thought we work well. Off came the old gasket and on went the new.



The propane locker has a drain hose from the bottom of the locker, through the lazarette, and overboard via a thru-hull. This is a safety precaution in case of a propane leak. Tightening the clamps easily resolved the two hose leaks. Replacing that thru-hull was a much bigger job. At minimum we wanted to replace those plastic parts--a Nordhavn had sunk at the dock recently because plastic parts were used in a thru-hull application. But we also wanted a ball-valve to be able to close the thru-hull in an emergency should the pipe break. The existing thru-hull at left was solidly bonded to the hull with 5200, but we eventually managed to remove it by forcibly rotating it in place. We replace it with a new industrial-strength valved thru-hull.


We still have a few pieces of equipment that drain into the bilge via hoses and a manifold to a single point: the engine intake drains and the lazarette freezer. These should rarely run water, so we we just put a small bottle on the end of the hose to collect any water that does come through.


Beyond the bilge, we also wanted to get our exterior lockers drier. While we had stopped saltwater from entering the lazarette through the propane locker drain, we couldn't prevent saltwater from entering the locker itself. The drain had to remain open in case of a propane leak, and that meant saltwater could get forced through the hose and into the locker. We also had several lockers where fresh water would get inside, partly from condensation. The lockers drained fine and weren't really a problem, but we didn't want their contents sitting in water and wanted to improve aeration so they might dry faster. In these we installed modular floor tiles, cut to fit.




We've been checking the bilge regularly, and so far it has remained completely dry for three weeks. This includes an offshore run through Kaiwi Channel to Kane'Ohe Bay on the east side of Oahu, where the cockpit was awash much of the run there.

Sunday, January 06, 2013 6:00:12 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [6] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On Board
 Saturday, December 15, 2012

Dirona carries 1735 gallons of diesel for the main engine: 835 gallons in each side tank and 65 gallons in the day tank. (We also have a 10-gallon supply tank for the auxiliary engine). Although 1735 gallons would have been fine for the roughly 2,000nm trip between San Francisco and Hawaii, we added 532 gallons in cockpit bladder tanks for that run. We did this for two reasons: 1) it allowed us to run faster (at additional fuel cost) and 2) we wanted to test the practicality of fuel bladders for longer offshore runs.

We went with ATL FueLocker bladders. ATL bladders had a good reputation with other boat owners, and from his car-racing days, James knew they could smack the wall at 200 MPH without leaking. We bought two 300-gallon bladders with tie down-kits--these would come close to filling the cockpit, leaving space to walk around them, but little room for the bladders to shift should they come loose. The only question was how the extra weight would affect boat trim.

We air-filled the bladders with a vacuum cleaner so they would be roughly the right size and shape as when filled with fuel, but light and easy to move. Once we'd determined the positioning for them, we installed extra pad-eyes on the cockpit walls and on the floor under the barbeque console to attach the tie-down straps.


One side-effect of getting the bladders was that our Westminster teak extension table in the cockpit would have to go. We sold it on Craigslist and replaced it with a slightly smaller folding model.


We also purchased SunShields for the bladders, mainly to protect them from UV rays. But they also provide abrasion and heat resistance. And on the trip across, the straps did wear the covers a bit, so we were glad to have them. The picture below shows the bladders ready to be filled in Oakland with the SunShields on. We filled the bladders with air first to get everything properly placed, then deflated them just prior to fueling. Our teak chairs and the flopper-stopper plate are secured against the aft cockpit wall. We normally secure these on either side of the cockpit, but the bladders filled that area. And the folding table, normally strapped-down by its base in the cockpit, is secured to the starboard walkway.  


When we put the pad-eyes in for the bladder tie-downs, we also installed two in the ceiling above each bladder to support the fill standpipe when fueling. We tied a small line to the standpipe, ran it up and over the pad-eye to a cleat and adjusted the line as the bladders filled. The bladders are spec'd at 300 gallons but felt fairly full at 266, so we stopped there. It may have been possible to fit considerably more in, but we didn’t push it.


With the bladders full, the boat did go down a couple of inches at the stern, but the swimstep was still well above of the water. We were carrying 2,277 gallons of diesel: 835 in each supply tank, 65 in the day tank, 10 in the wing engine tank and 266 in each bladder. #2 diesel weighs 7.1 lbs/gallon so the total weight we carried in fuel when we sailed from Oakland was 16,167 lbs. That is more than half the weight of our previous boat, a 40’ coastal cruiser.


Below are shots taken underway. The bladders seemed quite secure, with no obvious impact on boat trim.


The bladders are not very stable when partially full, so we emptied them completely on the third day out when the main tanks had drained enough. To transfer fuel, we had installed a half-inch fuel hose from a Camlock quick-connect fitting at a bulkhead in the cockpit back to the fuel manifold. A short section of hose with Camlocks on either end connects the bladders to the bulkhead fitting, with a valve at each bladder end to control flow.

This way we can use our fuel transfer pump to pull fuel directly from the deck bladder tanks, through a filter and into one of the side tanks. This had several advantages over the more standard method of pumping from the bladder into the deck fill using an external pump:

  1. No-one had to be on-deck during the fuel transfer. All that was required was a quick step outside to open the valve on the tank to be drained.
  2. Our fuel-transfer pump can drain each bladder in about 80 minutes, limiting the time where a bladder is partially filled. One of our many factory upgrades was to replace the 43 GPH Walbro 6802 pump with a 822 GPH a Jabsco VR050-1122. Hose and plumbing restrictions take it down to an actual, but still respectable, rate of about 231 GPH.
  3. The fuel coming from the bladders is run through a 25-micron filter before entering the tank. 
  4. We didn't need to buy and store an additional pump, and likely a spare, to empty the bladders.

We left the empty bladders in place on deck for a few days, with the tie-downs tightened to hold them securely. On a calm day underway, we tilted them to drain the last 20 or so gallons out, hosed them down and stowed them in the flybridge brow.


When we arrived at Hilo, we had used 1,746 gallons so were 12,397 lbs lighter. Here are our fuel stats for trip:

  • Duration: 296 hours (12.3 days)
  • 12 hours less excluding Hilo offshore wait: 284 (11.8 days)
    •  Fuel: 1746 gallons consumed
  • Distance: 2028 nm
  • GPH: 5.90 gph
  • MPG: 1.16 nm/gal
  • MPH: 6.85 kts (7.14 kts not counting the Hilo wait)
  • Fuel at Oakland:
    •  Main tanks: 1670 gal
    •  Supply: 65 gal
    •  Bladders: 532 gal
    •  Wing: 10 gal
    •  Total: 2277 gal
  • Fuel at Hilo:
    •  Main tanks: 456 gal
    •  Supply: 65 gal
    •  Wing: 10 gal
    •  Total: 531 gal
Ironically, we arrived in Hilo with almost exactly the full bladders’ worth of fuel.


Saturday, December 15, 2012 5:48:14 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [0] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On the Water
 Saturday, July 21, 2012

When we were deciding on equipment for the 52, one of the things we considered was replacing the standard Sub-Zero 700TCI refrigerator/freezer with one that is more energy-efficient. Home appliances, with self-defrosting freezers and ice makers, generally are designed for applications where power is plentiful. We'd heard complaints from other Nordhavn owners that the Sub-Zero power draw was excessive. In our marine application, we'd often be off-grid on battery power, and would need to run the generator to charge the batteries. The greater the power draw, the more often we'd need to run the generator. In the Sub-Zero's favor, other owners had raved about the quality of the unit, almost more than seems reasonable. After all, it is just a refrigerator.

Another concern we had with the Sub-Zero 700TCI was it's unusual dimensions. We've tried hard to avoid having any non-standard equipment that limits our replacement choices should the unit fail. For example, we increased the galley cabinet depth by two inches to accommodate a standard 24"-depth GE Profile dishwasher instead of the 22" Miele that is the standard choice. While the 15.3cu Sub-Zero fit made good use of the galley space, we couldn't find another production unit that came close to matching its dimensions of H 80" x W 27" x D 24". Side-by-side fridges, although also designed to be built into the cabintry, were 4-5" deeper and 8-10" wider. Some companies made a similar design of fridge on top and freezer drawer below, but these units were still 8-10" wider and 4-5" taller. Standalone fridges existed that were similar to the Sub-Zero in width, but they were 6-8" deeper. We would have had to make major changes to the galley layout to accommodate a more standard unit.

The only other option was to have a custom unit built. This we could get with a more efficient, remote 24-volt compressor. We'd get better power efficiency with improved servicability. The refrigerator/freezer would just be a box with few points of failure, and the remote compressor would be relatively easy to service or replace. The main downside of these units would be food quality--the custom units generally are not frost-free and don't control humidity as well as a standard fridge. In that regard, we expected the custom units to be similar to the 12-volt marine combo refrigerator/freezer we had on our previous boat. The boat appliance did not keep food nearly as well as the GE Profile side-by-side that we had in our house at the time, and we expected the Sub-Zero would be better than the GE.

In the end, we stuck with the Sub-Zero 700TCI for the galley. We did, however, change the grill design while we were at the yard. The standard install includes teak panels, with a teak grill below to hide the equipment. Several owners felt the grill restricted the airflow, increasing power consumption, and had removed or replaced theirs. And we'd been told that Sub-Zeros installed with the original stainless steel and no teak panels were more efficient. The teak should provide some extra insulation, so this didn't make sense until we saw a stainless steel unit installed on a Nordhavn 55 in the yard: the space below was open with no grill. So we changed our design to match, with just a teak piece that extends from the bottom freezer drawer to partially cover the equipment, and no grill. In addition to improving airflow, this also makes cleaning dust buildup there much easier.

We did make one refrigeration change to install a 24-volt Dometic RPF-50 freezer in the lazarette. At the time, the separate freezer option for the 52 was a Sub-Zero UC-24C fridge/freezer combo installed in the stairwell to the staterooms. We didn't like the idea of having the unit in the stairwell, partly because that's conveniently accessible space to give up for something that we'd not have to access frequently. But, more importantly, a freezer failure could send smelly meat fluids down into the cabinetry and be near impossible to clean. And we wanted a full freezer, not a combo unit, so we opted for the Dometic instead.

Having had the boat for over two years now, we are very happy with the decision to keep the Sub-Zero in the galley. Those who extolled it's virtues were correct: food keeps incredibly well. When we go on longer trips, we use the same tricks that we did with the previous boat to keep food fresh. In particular, we use Evert-Fresh or Debbie Meyer food-preserving bags. The bags allow gases to escape, and keep fruit and vegetables fresher longer. Since moisture can speed up spoilage, we put a paper towel in each bag and replace the towel when it is damp. We’ve had good luck with all kinds of produce, including green onions, lettuce, corn, lemons and artichokes. With the marine refrigerator we had back then, this doubled or tripled the shelf life, depending on the product. With the Sub-Zero, the shelf life is quadrupled or more. The picture taken below is a head of Romaine lettuce four weeks after purchase, and it still was fresh even after six weeks.

We're also happy with our choice of the Dometic for the lazarette. We only use it for longer trips, but it allows us to stock up on bread, meats, etc and not need to stop for groceries for well over a month. The Dometic isn't frost-free, however, and we have found that food such as ice cream doesn't keep well long-term there compared to the Sub-Zero--more support for keeping the Sub-Zero. The marine fridge/freezer on the previous boat was not frost-free either, and we'd annually need to defrost it to remove thick ice build-up. So far we'd not had to do that with the Dometic--ice just doesn't build up. This may be partly due to our not opening it frequently when in use, that we only power it on for a few months at a time, or it might be a higher quality unit.

While the Sub-Zero does consume more power than the other options, we're very happy to have it. The boat is pretty power hungry, and while we've not measured it, we don't feel the Sub-Zero is a major a contributor to the overall power draw. Having fresh produce last longer makes us more self-sufficient--diesel is much more readily available in certain parts of the world than is fresh produce. This also allows us to last longer between stops, even if fresh produce were readily available. We've designed the boat for self-sufficiency, and having to the run the generator to top off the batteries is comparatively not that big an issue.


Saturday, July 21, 2012 4:41:15 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [3] - Trackback
 Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Last week we gave a presentation on our trip to Prince William Sound to the Seattle Sail and Power Squadron. They meet on the third floor of the Queen City Yacht Club, with a wonderful view across Portage Bay. We had a great time socializing with the group and touring the grounds. For our talk, we described our trip pre-trip preparation, experiences on the offshore run, and highlights of cruising Prince William Sound.

The slides are posted here. We’ll also be presenting on this topic at the Seattle Boat Show in January. The final schedule hasn’t yet been announced, but we’re slotted for January 28th or 29th. Below are our answer to a few questions from the audience on topics we didn't specifically cover in the talk.

What other failures did we have? In the presentation, we mentioned that a sea blubber jellyfish had plugged the generator raw-water strainer and destroyed the impeller. We replaced it, and immediately sucked in anther jellyfish, but this time the impeller wasn't damaged, and we had no further issues. The only other major failure we had was the wing engine. We use it to run our hydraulic thrusters and windlass, and tried to start it as we were approaching the first anchorage after the offshore run. The engine wouldn't start--turns out it was hydro-locked from having water forced down the raw-water exhaust outlet in the rough water. We cleared the engine, changed the oil twice and then ran it under load at anchor to get it good at hot. We got the water out quickly and the wing is undamaged. The most obvious way to avoid this problem is to close the seacock. Unfortunately, PAE doesn’t install a seacock on the generator or wing engine exhaust so that isn’t possible. Believing a seacock is a required safety feature, we have subsequently installed one. However, we like the wing to be available quickly in all conditions, so we prefer not to close the seacock. We instead installed a very large check valve in the exhaust, just inside the seacock, to prevent water inrush and wave action from driving water up the exhaust and into the engine. We believe this one is solved, but won’t know for sure until we experience difficult weather conditions.

How tired were we when we arrived? We were in surprisingly good shape, despite the rough weather. On arriving at that first anchorage and finally stopping, we had no trouble taking on the wing engine issue, and had a nice relaxing dinner afterwards. We did sleep well that night though. This is something we've been finding with the Nordhavn: because travelling is so comfortable, we actually can go further in this boat in a given period of time, both multi-day and local trips, than we could in the previous boat, even though the Nordhavn's top speed is much less. Running faster was more tiring on the previous boat. We'd have to be much more focused at the helm at the higher speeds, and the noise and vibration level, although not particularly bad, were significantly higher.

Were there marked trails? It varied. In some places, such as at Cascade Bay, the trail above the waterfall was well-trod and easy to follow. In others, we could pick our way through open scrub in the general direction of our destination. Because the winter weather is so harsh in Alaska, forests don't grow as thick as we're use to in BC. The many bluffs and open fields in the hills around the anchorages in Prince William Sound provided plenty of opportunities for easy hiking with a view.

What was the average temperature? Low-fifties near the glaciers, and low sixties elsewhere. Several days though, the temperature was into the seventies and was warm enough for us to eat lunch on deck in T-shirts.

How did we arrive at our watchkeeping system? Beth Leonard and the Dashews have good coverage on the topic of two-crew watchkeeping systems. People frequently started at formal two-hour shifts for a 24-hour period, but then evolved to four-hour shifts, only at night, as they gained experience. We figured if we were going to evolve to four hours, we might as well start there. Most couples also seemed to have the person with the most helm experience do the majority of the night shifts. So for the trip to SE Alaska last year, we started out doing formal four-hour shifts at night, with James taking the 8pm-midnight and 4am-8am shifts, and me taking the midnight-4am shift. Days were to be more informal, with James sleeping once or twice during the day. We learned, however, that James doesn't sleep well during the day, and wasn't getting enough sleep. I, on the other hand, can sleep pretty much any time. So we swapped to me taking the first and last night shift, and James doing the middle shift. We found the 4-hour shifts slightly long so switched to 3 hours before settling on 3 ½ hours. I take the 8pm-11:30pm and 3:00am-6:30am shifts, and James takes 11:30pm-3:00am.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011 7:23:02 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [13] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On the Water
 Monday, September 19, 2011

One of the reasons we made the offshore run from Seattle to Prince William Sound was to gain experience. A gale in the Gulf of Alaska wasn't exactly the sort of experience we were hoping for. But we did learn that the boat, and our rough-water preparations, could take the conditions. The full log of both offshore runs is at Cruising Prince William Sound.

Three days out from Prince William Sound, on our way north, the forecast called for 30-knot SE winds and 10-foot seas. Two days out, the forecast had worsened to 40 knots from the SE with 13-foot seas. As we neared, the surface analysis charts showed the low deepening from 998 to 991. Within a day, the barometer fell from 1014 to 1003 and the seas built from calm to 10-12' on the stern quarter. Even with the stabilizers and autopilot working well, the boat motion still was substantial. We had to be careful to have good handholds when moving about--crawling often was easier.

We ended up not using the off-watch berth at all on this trip. Partly because the pitching motion the first few days was enough to make sleeping there difficult, and also because it was easier on the person on watch to not worry about making noise and waking the person who was off-watch.

In the past when we've been in rough water and had difficulty sleeping in the pilothouse berth, the master was comfortable. In this storm, James slept fine in the master berth, but I was having trouble falling asleep because I was sliding around on the bed with the sideways motion. I eventually wedged myself between the bed and the floor, and slept well.

At some point during the storm, the starboard caprail flipped open. It's a big, heavy piece of solid fiberglass--that must have taken some force. Nobody felt inclined to go out and close it though. One more item for the heavy weather preparation list--on the return trip, we ran a bungee from the inside to the outside handle to hold it down.

We hit much worse weather on the return trip. We'd left Prince William Sound as conditions were settling down from a gale the night before. At the Cape Cleare Data Buoy, the wave height had fallen steadily from 20' at 10pm to 11' by 11:50am, and the forecast indicated continued improvement. Another storm was predicted in a few days, and we wanted to get well south before it hit.

Conditions, however, worsened rather than improved. The winds picked up to 30 knots, with gusts to 41 and then to increased to 40 knots with gusts to 59. The seas were 13', about 5 seconds apart, and were breaking above the pilot house roof. Several slammed into the side of the boat at that height--we were glad to have the lexan storm shields on those big salon windows.

This time we were taking the waves on the bow and the pitching motion was severe.  We both got seasick, James for the first time ever. Although it wasn't debilitating, we both put on a scopolamine patch so we could keep food/water down. I'd had no problems with seasickness on the way up--severe pitching generally is what does me in. Spitfire seemed to be nervous, but otherwise did well. He ate lots, slept lots, and occasionally headed down below to use the cat box.

We were through the storm in 36 hours, although it felt a lot longer. We were pretty tired, but the boat handled remarkably well throughout. The furnace plug was torn off during the storm, the wind pressure against the dinghy cover wore a hole through it, and our US flag was slightly shredded, but otherwise we had no issues. The rest of the trip home was amazingly calm--we could run for days or weeks in those conditions.

Seasickness really makes taking video unappealing, but we did shoot some on the trip north as the storm was building. Waves never seems to look as big in pictures as in person, but notice in a few frames the horizon disappears off the top of the screen and then almost under the bow. Those waves are a good 8-10'. You can see the stabilizers working to counteract the rolling motion of the waves. And notice the caprail flipped open in some of the starboard shots.

We were surprised at how quiet the pilothouse is. The salon isn't particularly loud, but the engine noise is more apparent there. We'd never noticed that until put the video together. We have things pinned down pretty well everywhere, so boat is pretty quiet even in some of those big sideways swings.


Monday, September 19, 2011 4:55:14 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [4] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On Board | On the Water
 Sunday, September 04, 2011

We've spent the last few days lazing in the the sun in the San Juan Islands after returning from Prince William Sound. Yesterday we anchored in Reid Harbor on Stuart Island. Jose Sousa, who had been following our trip online, stopped by to say hello. His 1999 Lord Nelson Victory Tug 41 Carolina is so well-maintained it looks better than new. Interestingly, his boat was built by South Coast Marine--the same yard that built Dirona. Jose recognized much of the hardware on our boat from the Lord Nelson.

We're now anchored in Roche Harbor, with Nordhavn 62 Gray Matter tied alongside. Christine Guo and Mark Mohler took ownership two weeks ago and are enroute to Sidney, B.C. through the San Juans. We met them in Reid Harbor and decided to raft up for the night.




We all headed in to the pub at Roche Harbor Resort for lunch. The docks were incredibly busy--even the dinghy dock space is packed. We've not been there for a few years--the place has changed quite a bit, with new construction up the hill behind the the resort.


After, we toured English Camp, established over the "Pig War" after Britain and the United States nearly went to war in 1859.  


And now we're settled in for a relaxing evening.




Sunday, September 04, 2011 6:31:56 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [0] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On the Water
 Saturday, April 23, 2011

Last spring, Bob Lane interviewed us and reviewed Dirona for PassageMaker magazine. Bob has an experienced reporter's eye for detail. And as a long-time boater who has toured and written up a lot of boats, he notices what works and what doesn't. After touring the boat and describing the systems and upgrades, we discussed our goals in purchasing the boat and future travel plans. At the time of the interview, our 24x7 trip to Alaska was several months off. It would be a be a proof-of-concept trip for us, as we'd not run overnight before, let alone that far offshore.

We'll be discussing that trip, including lessons learned and highlights, at PassageMaker's Anacortes Trawler Fest next month. Our session is Alaska: 24x7 on Saturday May 14th at 10:30am. Dirona also will be open for the Trawler Crawl on Saturday from 4pm to 5pm (and possibly on Friday at the same time if we arrive early enough). 

Bob's article was packed with details and interesting perspectives. It's not often you can read an article about your own boat and learn something. We particularly liked his comment that the repeating monitors in the salon and master stateroom "... are the closest thing to art you’ll find aboard Dirona." We have a four-monitor glass cockpit, and each those monitors can be repeated on a screen in the salon or the master stateroom. At dock, we use the repeaters to monitor weather, and when underway we view engine telemetry, AIS, radar and the chart plotter. The master stateroom repeater was particularly useful on the run to Alaska, as someone off-watch there could easily view most data available in the pilot house with the push of a button.

Bob's full article is at PassageMaker digital subscribers can read it at


Saturday, April 23, 2011 12:16:40 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [2] - Trackback
 Sunday, April 10, 2011

Dirona recently was featured in the Three Sheets Northwest My Boat series. When we answered their questions, it had been about a year since we'd taken delivery of 5263, so it was a good chance for us to reflect back on the purchase and decision process.

One of their interview questions we had the hardest time answering was "What do you know now about your boat that you wish you’d known when you bought it?" We've not really had any unpleasant surprises. We did have some concerns about how some of our customizations would turn out, such as the day head, and the galley and guest stateroom redesigns. But these have worked out well and we wouldn't make any changes there. After a year with the boat we're even more convinced the main engine upgrade was the right decision. The hydraulics are an expensive option that introduce more complexity, but we love the system. It's great having thrusters that can run all day, even though we don’t use them that way, and we really like the higher HP thrusters that a hydraulic system makes possible. And with a hydraulic windlass, we easily can anchor in very deep water and not have to worry about overheating the windlass. For example, we anchored in 145' in front of Reid Glacier, with a 154 lb anchor on 450’ of chain at 2 lbs per foot.


Were we to go through the process again, the list of changes we'd consider is pretty short. Mechanically, we'd like more horsepower on the wing. The wing can drive the boat at adequate speed, but doing that requires higher load than we're comfortable with. It would be slightly better to have higher horsepower for emergency use, and definitely better for hydraulic use.

Since our boat was built, Nordhavn has come out with several alternate interior layouts for the 47/52 that avoid having to go up the stairs to the pilot house and back down to reach the staterooms from the salon. The pilot houses also are larger, with room for two helm chairs, which we would like. The new designs do appear to have less storage space, though, and there's no clear place for a day head. Since the stairs aren't a huge issue, avoiding them would have to be weighed off against the losing storage space and the day head. Storage actually isn't a big issue for us though--we still have several empty lockers and drawers after living aboard for a year and buying almost every spare parts we could think of. 

A slightly larger salon also would be nice, but that would reduce the cockpit size, and we do like the large outdoor area. The rest of the changes we'd make are pretty minor, including better lighting in the galley, no fiddle on the flybridge table, and larger doors into the storage area in the flybridge brow.

The full interview is at My Boat: MV Dirona. We've also posted details on several of the topics touched on in the interview, including our purchase and customization experience, visiting the yard in China, and watching the offloading in Tacoma

Sunday, April 10, 2011 11:36:10 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [0] - Trackback
 Sunday, March 27, 2011

This year at the Miami Boat Show, Northern Lights announced their new Wavenet generator digital monitoring system. Wavenet was installed on Dirona a couple of months prior to the announcement in Miami to test out the gear on a busy NMEA 2000 network in real boating conditions. I was pretty impressed with Wavenet from the beginning, but sometimes that excitement fades with time or the new gear ends up being a service problem. After a half year in service, we’re still as hooked as we were on the first day.

Our main engine is a full electronic John Deere 6068AFM75 and this engine makes available on the SAE J1939 bus a huge variety of information including engine RPM, coolant temperature, percent load, fuel pressure, fuel consumption rate, oil pressure, boost pressure, torque, alternator voltage, and number of hours. We use a Maretron J2k100 J1939 to NMEA 2000 gateway to get all this data delivered to boats central NMEA 2000 backbone.

We really like having all this data available and we use it constantly when underway. But we had no data available from our Lugger L844D wing engine and Northern Lights M843NW3.3 generator. Wavenet solved this problem without any adapters or other electronics, and makes available on the NMEA 2000 bus: generator output, AC voltage, line frequency, tachometer, water temp, oil pressure, alternator voltage, and engine hours.

I would have happily paid the price of Wavenet just for the generator telemetry data to NMEA 2000, but the system also includes optional remote panels that display all the data available and, in addition, support remote one-touch start/stop. Each panel is a simple, 1 wire installation. Put a tee in the NMEA 2000 cable, attach the drop cable to the Wavenet remote panel and its operational. We ended up installing three remote panels: at the electrical panel to replace the original generator control panel, another above helm, and a third in the salon. I love being able to just reach over from my seat in the salon, without getting up, and turn off the generator, or see the current output or how long it has been running.

Technically Wavenet only supports Northern Lights generators but, if you have a Lugger wing engine as many of us with Nordhavns do and you ask the folks at Northern Lights really nicely, I suspect they would be willing to offer Wavenet for your Lugger as well. Since we have hydraulic bow and stern thrusters with the wing engine providing primary hydraulic pressure, we start and stop the wing engine quite frequently. It’s great to be able to reach up from the helm and press start as we approach a marina. I don’t have to hold down pre-heat and then start. Just touch start on the Wavenet remote panel, it signals the on-engine control unit which takes the engine through the proper preheat and start cycle. When we are done with the wing, we just touch stop on the remote panel. It’s a very nice setup for those that use the wing frequently as we do.

For safety reasons, we chose to keep the standard analog wing engine controls to ensure the engine is available even if the NMEA 2000 or Wavenet systems fail.


A side benefit of having both the wing engine and the generator controlled by Wavenet is any remote can control either engine. It turns out that I frequently turn the generator off and on with the panel that I originally installed to control the wing engine.

The three main venet wins from my perspective: 1) all engine and generator data available on NMEA 2000 bus, 2) supports remote monitoring, and 3) supports one touch remote start/stop. More on Wavenet at:


Sunday, March 27, 2011 9:06:48 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [0] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On Board
 Tuesday, March 01, 2011

On our Christmas trip to Desolation Sound this year, we were looking forward to testing the boat in some rough winter weather. We've been out in a few gale warnings, and the boat has handled well, but we wanted something more serious.

We got our chance one morning on a trip from Gorge Harbor to Grace Harbor (map of area). A major SE winter storm was underway, so we set off at first light to check out the conditions. The Strait of Georgia has a reputation for nasty weather year-round, but the north end is particularly bad during southeast winter storms, due to the long fetch and generally stronger winter winds. And opposing current through Discovery Passage and Sutil Channel can make conditions there downright hazardous. We've seen conditions so rough in Sutil Channel that the tough little BC Ferry Tenaka, was tacking on the route between Whaletown and Heriot Bay. And many boats have gone down in the tide rips off Cape Mudge. And the "occasional" bit of wood can appear in the area too. Below are a shots from our approach to Heriot Bay a few days later:


As we exited Gorge Harbor that morning, three-to-four-foot waves were blowing into the entry channel with four-to-six-foot waves just outside. The winds were blowing steady in the forties on our nose from the southeast. We started seeing gusts over fifty knots as we approached Sutil Point, where the waves were about ten feet high and closely packed. Fortunately, there wasn't much wood in the water en route. In the picture below, you can see waves hitting the the back of the boat hard enough to spray up high and pour into the cockpit.

We were heading to Baker Passage north of Hernando Island. We couldn't just turn east once clear of Sutil Point and put those big seas on our beam. So our plan was to continue on a southeast course towards the northwest end of Hernando Island, then turn northeast to enter the channel. And wouldn't you know it, the only other boat out there for miles was heading to exactly the same place. The Alaska Titan, barge in tow, was on an easterly course towards Baker Channel as we headed south. The captain radioed us to ask our intentions. We told him that we were a little constrained by conditions and asked if he could take our stern as he proceeded across our course, then we'd turn up the channel and follow him through the the passage. 

Once the tug had passed behind, we found a relatively calm set of waves to turn 90-degrees to the northeast and head up into Baker Passage. Conditions were calm in the lee of Hernando, then kicked up again as we exited Baker Passage. But they weren't as bad they had been on the first leg, and we have an uneventful remainder of the trip to Grace Harbor.

In the screen shot below, the Alaska Titan is the green triangle on the lower left as we are off Sutil Point. The picture on the right was taken just after we'd turned northeast. The barge is visible in the distance, with the tug almost disappearing off the edge of the window.

We'd been out in similar conditions in the 4087, and were wondering how the 52 would compare, particularly when the waves tried to twist the boat sideways. It might seem silly to imagine that the 4087 possibly could do better, but with two 270HP engines, the 4087 was surprisingly capable in big seas. Putting one engine full forward and the other in full reverse would generally bring the boat around pretty quickly when needed. With only a single 266HP engine, we thought the 52 might be less maneuverable. But the boat's weight and that big rudder seemed to make up for the difference in engine configuration. We had no trouble with the waves twisting the boat around, nor with making the 90-degree turn from southeast to northeast off Hernando Island. And another big plus was that we were able to run on autopilot the whole way. The autopilot on the 4087 couldn't keep up with big seas like that, so we'd have to steer manually, which required much effort at the helm. On the 52, we could just sit back in the pilot house and mostly take in the show.

Here's some video footage we shot along the way:


Tuesday, March 01, 2011 10:51:59 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [2] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On the Water
 Sunday, February 06, 2011

We spent Christmas this year in Desolation Sound (map of area). The area is so popular in the summer that Kenmore Air has regular float-plane service to one of the anchorages there at Prideaux Haven (pictured above). That's way too busy for us--we prefer the winter, when we can have it all to ourselves. We made our initial Christmas trip there in 2002 in the 4087, but this was our first visit in the new boat.

Desolation Sound is about 200 miles from Seattle and would take about 25 hours of running at eight knots, or nearly 3 days if we didn't run at night (we barely get 8 hours of daylight in the winter). We decided to run 24x7 to get there, partly because we are time-constrained, and partly to gain more experience in running overnight. Besides this being a much shorter run than the one to Alaska, we expected to encounter more traffic and more wood in the water. And we would need to clear Customs to enter Canada.

We left Seattle around 6pm. I had the helm while James finished off some work until we reached Port Townsend at 10pm. The next leg was to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca and clear customs in Oak Bay, where we expected to arrive about 2:30am. Because the trip would only be a night or so, we didn't bother establishing regular shifts, and just tried to get sleep where we could. On the first night of a trip, James usually needs a while to relax before sleeping, and I can sleep pretty much anytime. So I slept until about midnight with James at the helm, then we switched until about a half-hour before reaching Oak Bay.

Conditions were reasonable across the Strait, although they kicked up a bit (as they always seem to) off Oak Bay. We'd not seen much traffic on the way up, but a couple of large ships were in the traffic lanes off Victoria. We could see them clearly via AIS and radar though, and could learn about them on the VTS channel. We also ended up participating in VTS ourselves pretty much the whole way to Desolation Sound. Dirona is under 20 meters long, so we aren't required to participate, but Traffic often contacts us because they can see us on AIS. As we exited the lanes in the Strait of Juan de Fuca around midnight, Seattle Traffic had asked our destination and then later had handed us off to Victoria Traffic, who presumed we were participating and requested we call in at various points. We didn't mind, as it increased our "visibility" to other vessels, even though most could see us in AIS anyway.

We are NEXUS card holders and can clear into Canada or the US over the phone. On the US side, once cleared you can go where you want, but Canada Customs still requires boaters to present themselves for possible inspection at one of several designated docks. We like to clear in Oak Bay, as it's right at the border and doesn't take us too far out of our way. We'd entered Oak Bay many times before during the day, but were surprised how difficult it was at night--the channel felt half the size that we remembered. Entry requires a bit of a dogleg around the breakwater, and the starboard buoy just inside appeared to be right in the middle of the channel. The overhead spotlight helped, but it still felt pretty tight. We generally don't like entering new harbors at night, and entering this familiar harbor only emphasized that feeling.

James took the helm for a few hours until the south end of Sidney Island while I slept, then I took over and brought us through Active Pass while James slept. We saw a bit more traffic en route, mostly ferries, but again all were clearly visible on AIS. And we didn't see much wood in the water, which was a real surprise, and one of our concerns running at night through the inside passage. The wood part did change as we got further north though. One thing we had done since the last overnight run was to get a proper-sized fitted sheet for the off-watch berth, plus a sleeping pad. This helped tremendously--the bed was much more comfortable.

We popped out in the Strait of Georgia around 8am and continued north as the sun rose. We realized then that we'd beaten the 4087 again. In the 4087, had we left Seattle the night before, we likely have stopped at Port Townsend that night and crossed the Strait of Juan de Fuca early the next morning. There would have been no point in running across overnight, as we'd need to refuel, and the fuel dock wouldn't open until at least 8am. We would need another 3-4 hours to reach the east entrance to Active Pass from Oak Bay, and probably wouldn't reach there until at least noon.


Sunday, February 06, 2011 1:48:10 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [4] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On the Water
 Sunday, January 09, 2011

Last April, Circumnavigator magazine came aboard for a day to review the boat and its systems.  On board for the magazine were contributing editor James Kirby, photographer Stephen Cridland and John Marshall, owner of Nordhavn 55 owner Serendipity. Also with us was Larry Schildwachter of Emerald Harbor Marine, who commissioned the boat and installed our electronics, furnace and various other options. And Vessel Assist provided the chase boat that Stephen used for photos of Dirona underway.



The weather was unusually sunny and warm for April, and we had a great time out on the water taking Dirona through her paces and describing the systems we had in place. And that bright blue sky made Stephen Cridland's impressive photos even better.

The resulting articles are now posted online:





Sunday, January 09, 2011 6:22:46 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [4] - Trackback
 Thursday, December 16, 2010

The seminar schedule for the 2011 Seattle Boat Show has been posted. This year we’ll be presenting on Saturday Jan. 22nd at 11:30am on our trip to Alaska this summer.

We'll be describe our 5-day, 2-crew, 24x7 offshore run from Seattle directly to SE Alaska, and share highlights of our visit. We'll also discuss how we've rigged Dirona for this and similar trips, and any lessons learned regarding equipment and other choices we've made.





Thursday, December 16, 2010 2:43:49 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [0] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On the Water
 Monday, November 01, 2010

We've been ordering a seemingly endless number of supplies and spare parts for the boat, ranging from fuel filters to zincs to alternators to pumps, and even a spare inverter. Stowing it all has been a big job. The boat has a large amount of storage space in various lockers, bilges and other spaces, but most are irregularly-shaped. To maximize the storage space in an accessible way, and keep the spares safe from damage, we use Really Useful Boxes. The boxes are straight-sided, so don't waste space; are see-through, so we easily can see the contents; and are strong, so can handle heavier parts without shattering. And they come in about 50 sizes, ranging from 0.7L to 145L, so we usually can find a box, or combination of boxes, to make the most efficient use of any space.

In the flybridge brow, we use 5 64L boxes, and other sizes, to store lighter spares such as fuel and watermaker filters:

We've used a variety of sizes in the irregular area under the stairs down to the stateroom:

In the lazarette, we've got two stacks of 64L boxes, with a 33L on top. The two 64L boxes have a particularly handy feature in that the front folds down, so we can access the contents without destacking them. We've them held in place with bungee cord, but we easily can unhook the bungee to slide the whole stack out of the way:

The open-front 14L boxes are ideal for storing shoes:

In all, we've probably got 100 of the boxes in various sizes stashed around the boat, and we keep ordering more. We buy them from Office Depot, which carries a limited selection, and online at




Monday, November 01, 2010 4:45:19 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [4] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On Board
 Sunday, September 26, 2010

Because the Nordhavn 52 is a new boat and because we chose to go with a more powerful engine than standard, we receive many questions on how we like it, whether more power is a good idea, and the fuel burn at different speeds. Now that we have over 600 hours on the engine and have used it on both short trip and multi-day 24x7 runs (when displacement beats planing), we’re in a pretty good position to discuss how its working out.


Dirona is powered by a John Deere 6068AFM75. There were two primary drivers influencing our choice of the Deere engine. The most important was horsepower. The 52, like the 47, uses a 165 HP intermittent duty engine but our 52 is 110,000 lbs whereas the 47 is advertised to be 85,000 lbs. With Nordhavns, the delivered boat will almost certainly be heavier than the published spec and, we’ve learned over the years, they get heavier with use.  Our old boat went up 4” in the water when we moved off of it (Down to one boat). Partly this is driven by us being full time liveaboards but mostly by having enough spares on board to be able to do long range cruising. Speed and fuel consumption on displacement boats with like hull designs, is just about 100% driven by displacement. Generally, if it weighs more or you want to get faster, then more power is needed. Understanding this, I like to look at hp per thousand lbs when thinking through when enough is enough. From an earlier blog entry, Engine Brand Choice, we compared different Nordhavns on the basis of hp per thousand lbs:


·         N40: 3.30     (50,000 lb @ 165 HP)

·         N43: 2.75     (60,000 lb @ 165 HP)

·         N43: 1.75     (60,000 lb @ 105 HP original engine)

·         N46: 1.75     (60,000 lb FD @ 105 HP)

·         N47: 1.94     (85,000 lb FD @ 165 HP)

·         N50: 3.75     (80,000 lb FD @ 300 HP)

·         N55: 2.66     (124,500 lb FD @ 330 HP)

·         N57: 2.66     (122,000 lb FD @ 325 HP)

·         N62: 2.19     (155,000 lb FD @ 340 HP)


I find this chart useful in that I’ve never heard a N50, N55, or N57 owner say they wish they had more power but I have heard a few argue that less would make more sense. From some 47 owners I respect, I’ve heard the power as delivered is perfect 90% of time but “I sure would love to have a bit more power when needed”. Or, “I would love to have the option of running faster when running coastal.” None really are unhappy with the choice but the trend seemed to be that those with less than 2.0 hp per thousand lbs often thought they could use more power whereas those with more than 2.5 hp per thousand lbs often thought they would prefer less. However, it’s very clear that there is no right answer with these decisions. Some I spoke with before purchase argued they wish they would have less horsepower, so they could run there engine at closer to rated load during normal operation.


In the diesel engine world, there is considerable concern about engine under-load and this is part of the reason, why many folks argue it’s better to size an engine on the lower end of the spectrum of what works in a boat. If an engine is run at very low load factors for long periods of time, it can cause cylinder glazing and increased wear due to excessively cool operation. This is a problem that does show up in generator applications so it is a potential concern. The key is to ensure the load is sufficient to maintain adequate engine operating temperatures, both water and oil. Modern electronically-controlled, common rail fuel-injected engines have very wide operating ranges so this problem is less of a concern than it was with less precise mechanically injected engines. The key to avoid problems at lower load levels is to keep the engine at or near the manufacturers specified operating temperature and give it a good wide open throttle run periodically. Many recommend daily short, wide open throttle runs.


Another thing to keep in mind is that, for all the industry concern with under-loading, over-loading remains a larger problem and destroys more engines. See Diesel Engine Overload for more detail. These problems show up most frequently in planning hull boats but, if you can’t achieve more than the rated RPM at wide open throttle on your boat, you are over-loaded and need to reduce pitch in your prop or change operating conditions (e.g. excessive bottom growth).


Another factor where I have seen some confusion is the belief that a larger engine consumes more power at a given output. A 265HP engine operating at 150HP will consume very nearly the same fuel as a similarly designed engine rated at 165HP and operating at 150HP output. Fuel consumption is driven by the HP being consumed not by the rated hp. The rated horsepower is the capability to produce the horsepower if needed. But with all other factors equal, a higher rating does not increase the fuel consumption.


We went with a 265 hp engine which places Dirona at 2.4 hp per thousand pounds. Because it is fairly close to the center of the Nordhavn fleet by that measure, we were pretty confident that it would work out. After 600 hours, we are glad we went with more power and, even at incredibly light loading, the water temperature doesn’t drop below 170F. Our usage patterns vary greatly and we use the boat over a very broad operating range. We use our boat most weekends and when only out for two days, we love the extra speed. On these trips we tend to run around at 2200 RPM, which on our boat is just over 210 hp. When coastal cruising we usually run in the 1800 to 2000 RPM range, which on our boat is 135hp to 165hp. When long range running we range widely between 1200RPM and 1800RPM, which is 50 hp to 135 depending upon fuel levels and conditions. On one trip, we needed to get to Anacortes, Washington and I couldn’t leave work in Seattle until later in the day. It was wonderful to be able to run over 9 kts the entire trip which is over 250hp. We burned a lot of fuel but it was nice to be able to that day. Looking at this data in tabular form:

·         Rarely (2400):                  250 hp   (9.2kts)

·         Weekends (2200):           210 hp (8.7 kts)

·         Coastal (1800-2000):       135 to 165 hp (8.2 kts 8.5 kts)

·         Passage (1200-1800):      50 to 135 hp (5.9 to 8.2 kts)


All the data above comes from a two way instrumented sea trial done by John Deere some months back. Since then the boat has since gotten heavier, 1” of prop pitch has been taken out, and those instrumented runs were done with a light fuel load, I’ve adjusted the speeds down by 0.3 kts in the table above to be closer to current reality. For those interested, the original raw data is at: N5263 Fuel Burn. In the spread sheet, you’ll find the two sea trial runs in opposite direction and for each run, the RPM, the fuel consumption, and speed.  I average both runs to get average RPM, speed, and range and then compute the range at 90% tanks. I then fit the fuel range curve to get speed to range data:


As I mentioned above, Dirona is now somewhat heavier than when these data were produced so, when making planning decisions, we conservatively assume roughly 0.3 kts less. And, having had the experience of one multi-day 24x7 passage, one of the things we learned is that waves and rough conditions have a much larger impact on speed than we originally guessed. Big swell will slow the boat down and increase the fuel burn to speed considerably. If you want to use different assumptions or play with the data, the spread sheet is at: N5263 Fuel Burn.


Looking at the data above, you can see that Dirona spends much of its life under the output of the standard 165 hp engine. This is true and its clear the standard engine will serve well in most operating modes. Personally, I prefer not running intermittent duty engines at max output so, we wouldn’t be comfortable asking 165 hp from the standard engine for more than very short periods of time, whereas the Deere is continuous rated at 221 HP. We just about never exceed that point.


Overall, we’re loving the engine and its working out really well across a wide spectrum of usage patterns. My summary, looking across many different dimension: 1) we like the fuel efficiency of a modern high pressure common rail (roughly 15% better than our previous mechanical engines), 2) we love all the instrumentation available from an electronic engine including real time fuel burn and engine load levels, 3) instant cold start is great, 4) the overall engine sociability (no smoke on cold start, reasonably quiet, low soot) is nice, and 5) it is really nice to have lots of power at a continuous duty cycle. After 600 hours, we continue to really like our Deere 6068.




Update: Dirona Prop Curve:



Sunday, September 26, 2010 10:31:18 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [1] - Trackback
 Thursday, September 09, 2010

Our Alaska trip was simply amazing. The glaciers and mountain scenery were incredible—we spent over a week in Glacier Bay National Park and several days in Tracy and Endicott Arms (trip map). We also cruised the complex outer coasts of Chichagof, Baranof and Prince of Wales Island, but barely scratched the surface there. The outer coast wildlife was particularly impressive—we saw hundreds of sea otters, pods of humpback whales, and coves so thick with salmon that you could walk across the surface on the protruding fins.


We ran 24x7 directly from Seattle along the west coast of Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands, and reached the Glacier Bay area in 5 days. The total distance to our first anchorage was about 875 nautical miles. As is often the case for us, the worse conditions we hit were close to home. We left Seattle in the early evening and near midnight reached the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where the traffic lanes converge for all vessels moving in and out of the Puget Sound, Victoria and Vancouver. There, a westerly near-gale blowing against an ebb current was producing steep and closely-packed waves. Traffic was heavy and a thick fog reduced visibility to less than a half-mile. With the wind and waves on our bow, we slogged through that overnight and into the next morning, at times slowing down to 4.5 knots to reduce boat motion. The seas settled down as we exited the strait.

The rest of the run north was mostly uneventful. We ran about 50 miles offshore all the way, and encountered little traffic beyond the south end of Vancouver Island. The wind often blew 20-25 knots from the northwest and the waves sometimes were quite large. At times we could look straight out the pilot house to the wave tips (pictured below), but they weren’t tightly packed as in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. With the active stabilizers on, the ride was reasonably comfortable, although moving about inside the boat required care. Frequent thick fog limited visibility, but this didn’t pose much of a concern either with so little traffic. Overall, Dirona handled the trip with ease. Thanks to PAE and South Coast Marine for building a strong and capable boat, and to Emerald Harbor Marine for a high-quality commissioning.

In planning the route, we originally had considered clearing Canadian Customs in Victoria, then heading up the west coast of Vancouver Island and passing east of the Queen Charlotte Islands, through Hecate Strait, to clear U.S. Customs in Ketchikan. But the more we learned about Hecate Strait, the less appealing that plan became. The waterway is relatively shallow throughout, a few hundred feet at best, with only tens of feet at the north end. Southerly winds funnel through and steep seas develop quickly. One of our favorite local weather books, the now out-of-print Marine Weather Hazards Manual, says of Hecate Strait: “Because of the speed that the winds and seas can change, it has been said that Hecate Strait is the fourth most dangerous body of water in the world.” So we decided to just run offshore the whole way and perhaps clear in Sitka rather than in Ketchikan. Clearing customs, however, takes time in having to divert our course to an appropriate reporting station, and we’d have to deal with food and alcohol restrictions. Canada Customs said they had no policy on allowing alcohol beyond a very small amount to be carried through by boat, although an officer could choose to allow it. To be on the safe side, we’d need to stick to the limits and stock up when we cleared back into the US, costing more time. We weren’t planning to stop in Canada anyway, so we decided not to clear customs, saving many hours. If we did have to stop for safety reasons, we were told we could clear over the phone via Nexus, but they might send the RCMP out to inspect us as there are no reporting stations on the west coast of Vancouver Island or the Queen Charlotte Islands.

Alaska is a trip that we’ve wanted to make for a number of years, but you really need 3 months to do it right, and 2 months at a minimum. A large chunk of that time is spent just covering the 600 miles to the Alaska border, plus another 350 to reach Glacier Bay proper. We’ve never had more than four weeks off at a time, so the trip just didn’t seem feasible. But what we have been finding with the new boat is that, rather than the slower speed restricting where we can go compared the previous boat, we actually are travelling farther.

We were able to reach the Glacier Bay area in 5 days running 24x7. Reaching the same area in the previous faster boat, a Bayliner 4087, would have taken longer. To travel longer distances in the 4087, say 400 miles from Seattle to Queen Charlotte Sound, we typically ran from dawn to dusk, or about 14 hours per day. We cruised at about 14 knots, but often would average about 12 with wind and current. At that rate, we’d need to replenish our 220-gallon diesel supply daily, costing up to two hours to divert to a fuel dock and fill, and we’d likely have to slow down to manage our fuel consumption as fuel docks aren’t very frequent north of Vancouver island. So at best we could cover about 150 miles per day. In perfect conditions, it would take about 6 days to cover the same 875-mile distance to the Glacier Bay area, plus another half day to clear customs in Ketchikan and stock up on anything we couldn’t bring through Canada. In that period, however, there’d almost certainly be a weather delay, so the total trip likely would take more than a week. And we’d be tired at the end of that run. The 4087 wasn’t particularly loud, but the interior noise and vibration from the engines is substantial, and running at 14 knots requires a fair amount of focus at the helm.

That the 52 is so much quieter and comfortable underway is one of the reasons we’ve been finding that we can cover more ground. After our 5-day, 875-mile 24x7 run, we arrived at our first anchorage in surprisingly good shape. We certainly slept well that first night, but first we had dinner on deck and a relaxing evening.


Thursday, September 09, 2010 10:24:03 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [8] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On the Water
 Saturday, July 24, 2010

Dirona has plenty of storage space—we’ve not yet come close to filling all the lockers despite living aboard. But it is a boat, and storage space is at a premium. So we’re always looking for ways to make the most efficient use of the space we have. When we visited the yard during construction, one of the items on our checklist was to add lockers in any inaccessible void spaces, or to modify standard lockers to make best use of the space available.  

As we organized the galley, one product we’ve found useful is Seville Classics iron expandable kitchen shelf. We’ve purchased five so far, and keep finding new uses for them. We initially got one for the locker above the washer/dryer that we use as a pantry:    

Then one for the dry-goods locker above the port counter:    

And another for the shelf below the port counter:    

And one for for our mugs and glasses cupboard above the main counter:    

Recently, we realized one would fit in the appliance garage behind the stove:


Seville Classics also has an iron two-tier shelf. By some fluke of luck, two fit exactly into our center overhead cupboard and really maximize our use of that space:

The shelves have little friction, so we’ve glued on non-skid material to keep things from shifting.

For dishes and coffee mugs, we are using Aspen from Crate and Barrel. We had Aspen coffee cups in storage from our house and brought them aboard the new boat. Before we put non-skid in the cupboards, the mugs had survived sliding and banging into each other so well that we decided to buy the plates and bowls too. So far they’re working out well. The bowls are a little on the large side, but are multi-purpose.

We purchased the shelves from our local Bed, Bath and Beyond store, but they also are available from


Saturday, July 24, 2010 11:22:37 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [0] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On Board
 Saturday, July 10, 2010

We spent the July 4th Independence Day weekend anchored at the head of the Hood Canal (route map). We went mainly because we’d not anchored there before, and were planning to stay only for the 3rd. This, however, turned out to be a great place to watch fireworks. Private displays are illegal in most cities in the region, such as Seattle and Bellevue. But we’ve discovered that they are legal in unincorporated regions, and everyone seems to set them off. Last year we anchored off Penrose Point Marine Park, in unincorporated Pierce County, and enjoyed great local displays and distant public ones such as Tacoma's.

At the head of the Hood Canal, in unincorporated Mason County, the “pre-displays” on the 3rd were so good that we stayed for the next night. And wow, were we impressed—this was easily the best private display we’ve seen. The head appears almost land-locked at night, and houses ring the shore. It seemed that everyone was setting off some fairly high-end fireworks—the effect was a near 360-degree constant display. We’ll definitely be back.  

We’ve anchored in the Hood Canal a number of times, but mainly nearer to the mouth and always before the Great Bend. We’d travelled to the head at speed once on a day trip in the previous boat a almost a decade ago, but had never anchored there. The head is a just a long way—about 90 miles from Seattle. You have to travel 30 miles north to Port Ludlow and then 60 miles south all the way to the head. At this point, less than two miles of land separates the head of the Hood Canal from the head of Case Inlet in the south Puget Sound, but Case Inlet is only about 55 miles by boat from Seattle.

Surprisingly, we’re finding our short-term cruising range has increased with the 52 rather than decreased, even though it runs a good 5 knots slower. The difference between 14 knots and 8 knots is really not that huge anyway, in terms of distance possible in a day. The big factor is that the 52 is so much more comfortable to run for longer periods of time that we travel farther, and still arrive more relaxed and refreshed than before. Reaching the head of the Hood Canal felt like an easy run.


Saturday, July 10, 2010 8:56:10 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [0] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On the Water
 Sunday, June 27, 2010

The week before last, our home was up in the air next to Emerald Harbor Marine's shop at Canal Boatyard in Ballard. Although we're happy to be back at Bell Harbor, we had a good week. Living aboard in the yard was an adventure, and we enjoyed exploring Ballard and visiting its many pubs. We'd lived on the 4087 while it was in the yard last fall, but the 52 is so much nicer. Grey water tanks make a major difference--we can shower on the boat and live almost normally so long as we minimize the waste water.

The boatyard is on freshwater behind the Ballard Locks. Our initial plan was to go through on Sunday night in preparation for a haul-out on Monday. But we decided to go early and spend the weekend on Lake Washington instead. Because locking through is a bit of a hassle and a time-burner, we don't go through very often.

We arrived at the locks late Friday evening (trip route). Depending on traffic, boats are directed into the small lock (30 x 150 ft, 8.5 x 45.7 meter) or the large (80 x 825 ft, 24.4 x 251.5 meter). We were travelling against the flow--boaters who keep their vessels on freshwater pour out on Friday night and return on Sunday. On busy weekends, passing through can take a while. The large lock had a full load of boats exiting, so we went directly into the small locks. The small lock is easier to manage for two reasons. Unlike the large lock, the guide walls in the small lock float, so lines don't have to be tended as the water level changes. The other, more important reason, is that fewer boats can fit inside the small lock. With our 16' beam, rafting is less likely with the roughly 12' left beside us. In the large lock, boats of all sizes are rafted 4 and 5 deep. It can get pretty hairy in there as everyone tries to navigate the confined and sometimes turbulent waters.


We're often asked how the 52's deeper draft has impacted our cruising, and in particular whether we'd still enter the many shallow-entry anchorages we describe in Cruising the Secret Coast. The deeper draft would only preclude entry from perhaps a half-dozen of them, and some we weren't keen to re-enter even in the 4087. So far, however, water draft hasn't been much of a concern, it's the roughly 30' air draft we've had to pay more attention to. This definitely was the case entering Lake Washington. Seven bridges cross the route from saltwater to Lake Washington, and another two cross the lake itself. We could safely pass under all but one, but most were close enough to warrant a careful look.

The first bridge we passed under was the Salmon Bay Bridge, just before the locks, with a 41' clearance. After the locks is the Ballard Bridge (44' clearance), the Fremont Bridge (30'), the Aurora Bridge (135'), the Ship Canal Bridge (127'), the University Bridge (42') and the Montlake Bridge (46'). The the Aurora and Ship Canal Bridges are fixed, and the rest are drawbridges. Running across Lake Washington are the SR-520 Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, with a clearance of 45' at the west end and 75' at the east end; and the I-90 floating bridge, with a vertical clearance of 35' at the west end and 33' feet at the east end. The Waggoner Cruising Guide has an excellent map of the route with the bridge clearances clearly indicated.

Pictured below are the Salmon Bay Bridge on the left and the Fremont Bridge on the right. Depending on the water level, we might have just squeeked under the Fremont Bridge, but a sailboat was already waiting for it to open so we went through with them. One long and one short horn blast is the signal to open the bridge--the bridge tender responds in kind if the bridge can be opened, or with 5 short blasts if not. The large bridge visible beyond the Fremont Bridge is the fixed-span Aurora Bridge, the last bridge before entering Lake Union. When the bridge was opened in 1932, it completed the final link of U.S. Highway 99 between Canada and Mexico. The bridge was built to allow large ships to pass through, but not the commercial sailing ships of the previous era. A locally famous picture shows one of the last tall ships to exit Lake Union, the Monongahela, before the final span was put in place. The Aurora Bridge also is home to the Fremont Troll.

The Lake Washington Ship Canal connects the Ballard Locks with Lake Washington. The first leg, the Fremont Cut, runs from the locks to Lake Union. The Fremont Cut has a long tradition of maritime industry. Fisherman's Terminal there is home to most of Seattle's commercial fishing fleet, including boats from The Deadliest Catch. Foss Maritime's headquarters are nearby. Just beyond our eventual destination, Canal Boatyard, is Kvichak Marine Industries. Docked outside their facility were three beautiful pilot boats bound for The Netherlands. The capable-looking craft are powered by twin Cat C32 ACERT 12-cylinder 1,300 HP engines and have top speeds of 28.5 knots fully-loaded.

East of the Aurora Bridge, the Fremont Cut ends at Lake Union. The lake is wringed with parks, float homes, marinas and restaurants and has wonderful city views. (The picture at the top of this blog entry is looking south across Lake Union to downtown Seattle.) The lake also is home to Kenmore Air, with floatplane service throughout Washington State and southern B.C.

From Lake Union, we passed under Ship Canal Bridge and the University Bridge into Portage Bay. The final bridge on our route that day, the Montlake Bridge, spans Montlake Cut, the last leg of the Lake Washington Ship Canal. On the first Saturday in May, the waterways and streets surrounding the cut are packed with attendees and participants in Seattle Yacht Club's Opening Day Parade and the Windemere Cup rowing regatta. Regatta crews traditionally paint their team's names along the cut walls.


Spitfire kept a careful watch as we ran through the cut. We passed by, but not under, the SR-520 Evergreen Point floating bridge. The city of Bellevue is visible in the distance behind the bridge.

We anchored for the night in Cozy Cove near Kirkland, off the east shore of the lake. Multi-million dollar houses wring the shore there, but are far enough away that we still had plenty of privacy. On Hunts's Point to our east, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, singer Kenny G and cellular phone pioneer Craig McGraw own adjacent estates. The bottom left shot is the view looking north from our anchorage in the evening and the bottom right was taken late the next morning. Evenings typically are quiet on Lake Washington, but during the day boats of all sizes ply the waters. Water skiing and jet skis are popular.

Saturday was warm and sunny, ideal for a lake cruise. We'd not navigated from the fly bridge much yet, so this also was a good chance to test the equipment. Although the pilot house definitely has the best setup, we've setup the fly bridge to have much the same functionality available. In addition to basic controls and equipment, we have a Maretron DSM-250 display, and a Furuno MFD8 display that hooks into the NavNet 3D system and is a backup server for the Furuno BlackBox down below. Everything worked well, and we had a great time cruising up top.

We'd did a slow tour to the north end of the lake, then turned south and passed under the SR-520 bridge and along the east side of Mercer Island. The I-90 fixed bridge there, pictured above, has a 200' clearance. Coming back along the west side of Mercer Island, we considered anchoring in Andrew's Bay off the west shore, but it was literally packed with boats. We instead continued north and passed under east part of the floating portion of I-90 bridge, where the clearance is 33'. We anchored for the night off Luther Burbank Park at the northeast tip of Mercer Island. It felt a little exposed, but is the same as Andrews Bay with respect to the prevailing northerly winds, and we had it all to ourselves.

OOn Sunday, we passed under the west side of the SR-520 floating bridge, with 35' of clearance, and reversed our path back through the Lake Washington Ship Canal to the boatyard. Traffic through Montlake Cut was a lot heavier than when we'd come through on Friday night, but was typical for a sunny summer day.


Sunday, June 27, 2010 8:25:34 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [4] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On the Water
 Monday, May 31, 2010

Last weekend we presented our experiences in going through the design and build process for Nordhavn 5263. The slides are at  Hamilton_TF10_BuildingTrawlerWebPost.pdf

In discussing purchase costs, we broke the total cost into three components: 1) base boat & standard equipment 2) factory/dealer options and 3) post-delivery items. The amount you spend above the base price depends on what is included in the base price and how you equip the boat, but often is more than people expect. We've seen estimates as low as 10% over base. We made some major customizations so, for us, the extras were a substantial portion of total price. Factory options were 10% over the base price and post-delivery items were 26% over the base price. (Note: We have updated these figures to use the 52 base price. When we bought the boat, the 52 pricing hadn’t yet been set so our contract pricing was based upon options on a 47 where the 52 package was just a big “option”.)

One of the difficulties we had in comparing prices of new boats across builders was the difference in base configurations, and option prices and types. With some builders, for example, the get-home option is a fully-independent wing engine with separate propeller and shaft, whereas with others it is a hydraulic system that simply powers the main shaft through a generator in the event of a main engine failure. To compare more accurately, we requested quotes of like configurations from several builders. This also helped in comparing prices between new and used boats. Initially we felt that used boats were not good value compared to the base cost of a new boat. But once we'd factored in the items above the base price, used boat prices appeared much more competitive. This is particularly true in a weak economy.

If you do plan to request price quotes, be aware that if you approach a company without choosing a salesperson, one is assigned to you and this can be difficult to change later. Get feedback from other owners and explicitly choose one to work with before approaching the builder. The salesperson can have a major impact on the project, particularly if you plan major customizations. Jeff Merrill was deeply involved with the 5263 project from start to finish. We incorporated many of his suggestions that we’d otherwise have overlooked, and he supplied us an extensive boat photo library that continues to be an incredibly useful resource.

In the deck, we list the major customizations, equipment changes and upgrades that contributed to the the factory option costs of 25% over base, but only those that are a little unusual. We didn’t include common factory options such as a wing engine, although those costs are reflected in the 25%. The post-delivery items listed in the deck is reasonably complete. Many we had anticipated, such as the life raft and kayaks. But some we hadn’t considered were blinds, floor covering, and custom stainless work.


Monday, May 31, 2010 7:38:52 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [6] - Trackback
 Thursday, May 13, 2010

Last week we answered this blog comment:

Given you have all these changes taking into consideration the PNW waters, I am wondering if you feel you have had to compromise at all on design given you are introducing the idea of taking it out on the open ocean. In other words, one of the things my husband and others have said is that the Nordhavn is designed for Ocean crossing and is "overkill" for someone who just plans to stick around the PNW/B.C. waters.. maybe Alaska. For example ...Nordic Tugs or American Tug... are much more OPEN floor plans with wider walk around, etc. I find it very interesting that you have guide books and are tremendously experienced in this area and ended up with this boat. What if you never ended up "Passage making", would you still be happy you went with a Nordhavn? Some concerns... smaller windows... smaller side decks... more up and down... gosh, wish I was attending your seminar! :-)  

Jackie Schmidt

Here's a more detailed response:  

Great question, Jackie. We bought the boat because we wanted a safe vessel with ultimate flexibility. It’s exciting to know the boat can go anywhere in the world. If we never leave this area, however, the boat still is ideal for us. The deep draft and weight means the boat doesn’t get tossed around much in big wind and waves. Being out in small craft advisory weather and simply not noticing is a degree of comfort we truly enjoy. And running comfortably in a gale, without stabilizers, is even better. The 52's draft also gives us a stand-up engine room with plenty of room to work and lots of fuel capacity. We’ve used the boat pretty much every weekend since taking delivery, and love not having to fill the fuel tanks all the time. Our previous boat, a Bayliner 4087, had narrow thigh-height rail-only side decks, similar to the boats you mention. We’d not feel comfortable out there in heavy weather. On the 52, the side-deck is wide, above waist height and covered top and side, allowing for reasonably safe and dry movement outside in rough conditions.

We can't ever get more than 4 weeks off work in a year, so going to Alaska is really difficult. With the new boat, we've decided that this year we'll probably make the trip by running 24x7 for just over 4 days up the outside of Vancouver Island and through Hecate Strait. We’d feel less comfortable doing that in a boat that wasn’t so well-built and designed for heavy weather. If we want to bring it around to the east coast, we can do that easily whereas our last boat just didn't have the range. We had all these crazy plans of going super slow and having two hundred gallons of diesel bladders. But in this boat, instead of the trip being crazy or difficult, we can do it any time.

Even when we're not traveling during the work week, the boat is enjoyable. The Sub Zero fridge, dishwasher, washer and dryer, heating system, entertainment system etc. make it a really great place to call home. The boat feels bright and airy, with plenty of storage space. We’ve not even come close to filling all the lockers and storage areas, despite living aboard. The stairs give the living areas a bit of separation from the staterooms, making it feel a bit more like a house. With the day head we’ve installed in the salon, there’s a lot less up-and-down anyway. The boat has excellent outdoor living space also--something that was important to us--with room for tables in the cockpit, boat deck and fly bridge.


The more time we spend on the boat and learn the systems, the more we appreciate the attention to detail that goes into it, from both a design and workmanship perspective. This is a boat that will last a long time. The owner’s manual is customized to the boat and incredibly detailed. And as we’ve gotten to know the Nordhavn community better, we’ve learned that many folks are on their second, third or even fourth Nordhavn. That says a lot right there. Although some are travelling the world, many are just enjoying a strong, safe, well-constructed and beautiful boat.

Flexibility to go anywhere is the appeal, but so far all of its use has been in this area and we're loving it.  



Thursday, May 13, 2010 12:20:33 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [4] - Trackback
 Saturday, April 24, 2010

The seminar schedule for Trawler Fest in Anacortes, WA has been posted. This year we’ll be presenting on Thursday May 20th at 10:30am on our experience in purchasing, configuring and building a Nordhavn 52.

We attended our first Trawler Fest back in 2001, and began a trawler shopping process that culminated earlier this year in the delivery of a Nordhavn 52. It’s the first fully-configured Nordhavn 52, and hull #1’s always bring lessons. We have heavily customized the boat based upon our experiences cruising year-round in the Pacific Northwest for the past decade, with plans for world cruising. In this talk, we’ll describe lessons learned in going through the selection, configuration and build process, and provide advice for those considering a purchase.

For those interested in a more detailed view, PAE will be displaying 5263 throughout the show.



Saturday, April 24, 2010 9:02:51 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [9] - Trackback
 Saturday, April 17, 2010

Lynwood Center, tucked into the corner at the west end of Rich Passage, has become one of our close-to-home favorites. It's nearness to the ferry routes and other traffic in Rich Passage make it an unusual anchorage. When we first stopped there, we expected that ferry wakes in particular would toss the boat a fair bit, but the anchorage is surprisingly calm (we surmise through a combination of the ferries slowing to take the corner and their east-west wake cancelling out the north-south wake.)

Diving birds provide constant entertainment, and on clear days the anchorage has a great view to Mount Rainier, but we especially enjoy watching the traffic through Rich Passage. Most memorable was a navy submarine that passed through from Bremerton with an impressive escort of two Coast Guard cutters, three high-speed Coast Guard RIBs and two large Navy tugs.

Public shore access is close by at the Schel-chelb Estuary, owned by the Bainbridge Island Parks and Recreation District. You can land there and walk a short distance to Lynwood Center. We stopped once at the bright and airy Treehouse Café for an excellent thin-crust pizza with a microbrew on tap. Lynwood Center also has a small grocery store, a movie theatre and a couple of other restaurants. Returning, we discovered that the tide comes in a long way. James had to wade out in his jeans, in cold winter weather, to rescue our stranded dinghy.


Last weekend we anchored there in the new boat for the first time. We had expected the 52 to roll significantly more than the hard-chined 4087 when a wake did come through, but so far we've been pleasantly surprised.

Anchoring notes: Anchor in 3-4 fathoms in the bight along the north shore at the west end of Rich Passage. North and southeast wind protection is good, but southwest winds blowing across Port Orchard can force substantial waves into Rich Passage. The Schel-chelb Estuary (see is at the north corner where the road passes over a culvert.

Saturday, April 17, 2010 10:21:45 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [4] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On the Water
 Saturday, April 10, 2010

We spent the final two nights of our mid-March shakedown cruise in Hammersley Inlet. Shelton and the Oakland Bay Marina are at the elbow of Hammersley Inlet, where it bends into Oakland Bay. We've anchored in the area many nights, and spent hours exploring the area by dinghy and on foot. We enjoy the industry: the timber mill off Shelton, Taylor Shellfish Farms, and a complex gravel mine conveyer and barge-loading system that moves the barge back and forth rather than the conveyor. We even enjoy seeing the trucks full of logs pass on nearby State Route 3 on their way to the mill. And at night, the sky glows in the distance from the mill lights. There's also plenty of nature to enjoy, particularly at high tide when a dinghy can reach into deep into the drying heads.

We rarely see other boats at anchor in the area. A major reason is navigating Hammersley Inlet. The waterway looks difficult on Chart 18547 (and even harder on a smaller-scale chart), but is generally wide and reasonably deep. Only a few tight spots require careful course selection. The main navigation challenge is oncoming traffic, particularly tugboats with barges. In that case, the tugboat operator selects their course, and you take what is left. We didn't encounter any tug traffic this trip, and visibility was much better than on some of our previous visits, when the fog was so thick we could hardly see the shore on either side.

We travelled to Hammersley Inlet from Stretch Island Marine Park at the north end of Case Inlet  (route details). The most direct route there is through Pickering Passage along the west side of Harstene Island. Halfway along is the Harstene Island bridge, with a clearance of 31 feet at mean high water. The tide level was 13 feet and mean high water there is 24 feet. With our estimated air draft of 30 feet (we'd not yet measured it) there should be ten feet between the bridge and the top of our the stack. We approached slowly, judged we had sufficient room, then carefully worked our way through. We had plenty of room, although the clearance seemed more like five feet than ten.

Given the clearance appeared closer than documented, we wanted a way to precisely check the close ones. So we measured our air draft with a Fluke 411D laser distance meter and got 30.5' feet from the waterline to the top of the stack. We then measured the distance from a fixed point on the bow to the waterline and got 7.1'. That means we would need 23.4' (30.5'-7.1') above the bow in order to clear a bridge.

Now when we approached a bridge, we can put just poke the bow under, and measure the distance to the bridge with the laser meter. If we have at least 23.4 feet, then we can clear.

Saturday, April 10, 2010 9:18:54 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [2] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On the Water
 Saturday, April 03, 2010

A major spring storm was forecast to hit the Puget Sound on Friday. A 972-mb low over southern Vancouver Island would generate storm-force winds along the  Washington state coast. A gale warning was in effect for the more-protected Puget Sound, and winds there were forecast to reach 30-40 knots, with wind waves of 5-7 feet. Perfect. We'd get a chance to test the new boat in rough waters.

The storm was at its worst when we left Bell Harbor Marina Friday afternoon. Winds at nearby West Point were southerly 37 knots, gusting to 41. The main fairway out of the Bell Harbor Marina runs alongside a sloping rock wall--the lower the tide, the smaller the fairway. We left on a zero-foot low tide, with the wall to port and a boat on the end of the dock to starboard. This gave us about 30 feet of usable fairway, or only about 8 feet on either side of our 16' beam. This sounds like plenty, but with a new boat and a strong wind, it actually was tighter than it sounds . The east-west channel from the marina into Elliott Bay also is narrow, and waves were breaking across the entrance. But we had no trouble navigating the fairway or exiting the marina. The boat felt solid and stable.

Outside, large waves swept across Elliott Bay and broke high up on the bow of the 650-foot freighter Westwood Columbia as it approached Seattle from the northwest.

Conditions were rough but tolerable. We ran at 8 knots about halfway across Elliott Bay, on a southwesterly course for Yukon Harbor. This put the waves pretty much on our nose. After burying the bow a few times, we pulled off some speed to reduce the motion. We ran most of the way without the stabilizers, to see how the boat felt, and found it pretty comfortable.

According to Cliff Mass' Storm Review, the maximum gusts at West Point reached 53 knots that afternoon. Conditions probably were in the top ten for worse that we've experienced on the previous boat. We normally would have been worn-out after arriving, but the 52 handled the conditions with ease. Everything stayed put and we arrived at Yukon Harbor fairly relaxed and comfortable. One thing we've done to prepare for rough water in both boats is to have a way to secure everything, inside and out. Even with no safety risk, having things moving is distracting and disconcerting. Offshore sailors reported that loose items shifting and falling reduces a crew’s confidence in their vessel’s safety. On the 52, we've installed D-rings in the cockpit and boat deck and use ratchet straps to secure everything on deck.

Yukon Harbor is another one of our unusual anchorages. The bay is exposed to the north, but has good holding and excellent southwest protection. We overnight there a lot, particularly in the winter when prevailing winds are from the south. Safely at anchor, we fired up the barbecue and had a relaxing steak dinner.



Saturday, April 03, 2010 2:38:45 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [2] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On the Water
 Tuesday, March 23, 2010

From Eagle Island, we made a short trip to another favorite anchorage at Nisqually Flats. The anchorage is a bit unusual, but we love the mountain views in both directions. Conditions generally are calm unless the winds pick up from the north, so even on overcast days, its a good anchorage. Mount Rainier wasn't quite as visible as at Eagle Island yesterday, although still was dramatic, but the Olympics were very clear. And we were happy to hear the piper as she walked along the shore.


We spent a couple of days at Nisqually, unpacking our endless pile of boxes and testing out the various systems. The warm weather continued, and the temperature was warm enough that we could have a morning coffee break outside on the boat deck.

The boat deck on the 52 is 2 feet longer than the 47, giving us plenty of space for a table. But that extended deck, plus a deeper swim platform, made launching the dinghy from stern a challenge. The capability to launch to all three locations--port starboard and stern--was important to us though. To accommodate a stern launch, we upgraded the davit from a Steelhead SM1500R with a 12' reach to a custom Steelhead ES1100 with a 16' reach, and moved the standpipe aft 1'3". This has worked out well--we can launch the dinghy single-handed to all three positions.

We also tested out deploying the flopper stopper, which was relatively straightforward. Conditions were so calm that we couldn't gauge how well it would work though. Since the stack on the 52 has been moved aft compared to the 47, we moved the whisker pole mount aft a similar amount, so that the topping lift would connect directly above the pole on the exhaust stack.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010 9:52:11 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [0] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On the Water
 Sunday, March 21, 2010

Friday afternoon we cruised south from Bell Harbor Marina for a week-long shakedown cruise in the South (Puget) Sound. We visit there frequently--it's easily accessible from Seattle and has excellent anchorages, many with views to Mount Rainier and the Olympic Mountains. Relatively few boaters visit however, compared to the cruising grounds to the north, such as the San Juan Islands.  We know many people who have cruised the Pacific Northwest for years, but have never visited the South Sound.

Definitions of the South Sound vary, but we never feel officially there until we've passed under the Tacoma Narrows Bridges.

The weather was clear and at 59°F, unseasonably warm for March in the Pacific Northwest, with great mountain views. Below are the snow-covered Olympic Mountains viewed over the Fox Island bridge.

That night we stopped at Eagle Island Marine State Park, a long-time favorite of ours.  Mount Rainer was out in fully glory, with a colorul sunrise the next morning.

While underway yesterday, we received an email from Paul & Linda Dugger, saying "What a beautiful craft. Your new boat is glistening in the morning sun." They had noticed Dirona at anchor and sent some pictures taken from the deck of their house on Anderson Island. What an amazing view they must have from their deck, and we sure appreciate them sending us the pictures.




Sunday, March 21, 2010 8:32:53 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [2] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On the Water
 Tuesday, March 16, 2010

This weekend we completely filled our fuel tanks for the first time. We had called around to get pricing for taking on 1,700 gallons:

  • Shilshole: $3.02
  • Poulsbo: $2.88 (up from previous week of $2.75)
  • Port Orchard: $2.81
  • Kingston: $2.79
  • Tacoma: $2.99-$0.20 (for over 1,000 gallons): $2.79 (we were told $2.66)
  • Ballard Oil: $2.73
  • Covich-Williams: $2.69 cash & $2.80 credit

The prices were slightly cheaper inside the locks, at Ballard Oil and Covich-Williams, but the hassle and time to go through offset that somewhat. We chose Tacoma as the prices were competitive and good anchorage was nearby in Quartermaster Harbor.

We left Seattle late in the afternoon, and arrived in Quartermaster after dark. We were heading south into steady 25-knot winds on the nose, but the boat rode so comfortably that we eventually stuck our head out the window to see if it really was blowing 25. The opening door was hard to hold against the wind. It really was blowing that hard but, in the pilot house, we had no spray or other evidence of wind other than watching the waves.  Not noticing a small craft warning is a big difference from the previous boat.

We were able to run comfortably from the pilot house along the east side of Vashon in the dark. We’ll still want to get some kind of light dimming screens for the nav monitors—even with the screen brightness turned down and the chart plotter in night mode, the screens still were pretty bright. (We have 4 Lenovo ThinkVison L1900ps.) Buoys and crab traps litter the entrance to Quartermaster Harbor, so we ran from the fly bridge to enter the anchorage. Visibility from up there was excellent.

Saturday morning we arrived early at the fuel dock and waited for them to open up. We’d drained the side tanks completely so that we could accurately gauge our capacity, and were down to only 15 gallons in the supply tank, with fuel barely showing at the bottom of the sight gauge. That's under 1% of the capacity of the boat. We’ll bet we never choose to run it that low again.


We stretched a length of tape on the sight gauge level marking card and then added 50 gallons to each tank, marking off on the tape in 50-gallon increments. We hit the top of the sight gauges at 600 to port and 650 to starboard, and continued filling until fuel just bubbled up to the top of the fill pipe. We’d fuelled for about three hours, and the port tank took 834 gallons while the starboard tank took 831 gallons. That gives us 1,665 in the side tanks. Adding the 70 gallons in the supply and the 10 gallons in the day tank, we have 1,745 gallons usable fuel.


After fueling, we returned to Quartermaster for the night. We spent some time setting up the auto pilot—tracking is improved but more work is still needed. On Sunday, we had a nice easy run back to Bell Harbor with lunch underway. We didn’t notice a major difference in handling with the full tanks other than the boat is a bit more stable and doesn’t lean out as much on turns, but we’ve not had much of a chance to play with the boat yet to compare. We’re entering the final stages of commissioning, and while there still is much work to do, the boat is coming along wonderfully. We’ll be heading out for a week-long shakedown cruise starting this weekend, and will continue to settle in and learn more.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010 1:08:24 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [7] - Trackback
 Monday, March 01, 2010

We are now down to one boat and no storage room. Only four dock lines and two jobs tie us to Seattle. We've been living aboard Nordhavn 5263 since taking delivery on Friday February 19th, and three days ago, the new owners took delivery of our Bayliner 4087.

The past week has been a busy one. We took delivery of the 52 late Friday afternoon and brought it from Elliott Bay Marina to nearby Bell Harbor Marina. There we had a second, temporary, slip with room to raft the old boat, the 4087, against it. Our first docking there likely was among the most difficult we'll face for a while. The slip was barely big enough for the 52, with a power cruiser in front and a police boat perpendicular behind. We had to slide the 52 in sideways, then back down behind the police boat, while avoiding crushing the cruiser in front. Then we moved the 4087 over from our standard slip and rafted it beside the 52. That was enough for Friday night.


Early Saturday morning, we picked up a rental truck and emptied our storage room. We nearly filled the 10-foot cube van. Our 5'x5' storage room was packed from floor to ceiling with items from our house, and some parts and furnishings from the 4087 that we don't use. We transferred everything from the truck down to the dock beside the boats, and moved what belonged with the 4087 onto that boat. And since we had a truck, we also picked up two Ekornes recliners that had arrived recently on order from back in October. By early evening we still had a massive pile of boxes on the dock. The weather fortunately was predicted to be clear through the weekend, so we left it all on the dock for the next day.


On Sunday, we transferred everything off the 4087 and the dock onto the 52. The 52 has a more sloping brow than the 47, making for a large storage area. We filled that completely, plus almost every room inside.


We then moved the 4087 to another temporary slip, transferred the 52 to our regular slip, and moved the 4087 back to the original temporary slip, this time tied to the dock instead of the 52. We'd removed so much weight from the 4087 that the waterline had shifted up several inches.

We spent early part of last week getting the 4087 ready for transfer, and then worked on settling into the 52. On Friday, the new owners officially took possession, and left the marina on Saturday. For the first time since we’ve purchased it back in 1999, someone besides ourselves was at the helm as the boat headed out into Elliott Bay. We sold the boat to James' uncle, so we'll definitely be seeing more of it in the future.

Also last week, Pacific Asian Enterprises project manager Jeremy Henderson called to tell us the fuel capacity is 1,860 gallons, a full 190 gallons more than we had originally requested. 11% more range! We love good news like that. Thank you Jeremy.

Commissioning on the 52 is not yet complete, but we wanted to take delivery in order to finalize the 4087 sale. So the Emerald Harbor crew has been finishing the work at Bell Harbor while we dig ourselves out from the mound of boxes. As the boat emerges from the unpacking, it's looking wonderful. Even as a work in progress, we're loving being aboard. From a comfort perspective it compares well with our past houses, if a bit smaller, but this one can go anywhere in the world.



Monday, March 01, 2010 4:03:45 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [9] - Trackback
 Wednesday, December 23, 2009

L to R: Jeremy Henderson, James and Jennifer Hamilton, Jeff Merrill

Jeff Merrill just posted 5263 Seattle Arrival – Dirona makes a splash! In this article, Jeff covers the build and delivery of Nordhavn 5263. The article ranges from the early discussion phase, through the build in Xiamen, China, to the delivery and first cruise under power, with pictures of all. 

Thanks to Jeremy Henderson, the 47/52 project manager for delivering a great boat, and Jeff for all his help and insight throughout the project.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009 2:10:45 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [2] - Trackback
 Thursday, December 10, 2009


Last Saturday we ran the dinghy down to Tacoma to watched the offload of Nordhavn 5263. Similar to visiting the yard, but on a smaller scale, watching the offload was an adventure, and an exciting part of the purchase and build process. We did have a minor difficulty in the offload, and Don Kohlmann of PAE Northwest handled it with an extraordinary effort.

We’ve posted more details and pictures of the delivery at

Thursday, December 10, 2009 7:08:52 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [7] - Trackback
 Saturday, December 05, 2009
Nordhavn 5263 arrived in Tacoma at 5:22AM this morning assisted by Weddell Foss and Henry Foss. We took our dinghy down and the fog was so thick we couldn't see the bow at times. We'll do a more detailed blog entry with more pictures but here's a quick sampling of some of the pictures.

The first view as the Ever Ethic emerged from the fog:

5263 tucked safely away up on deck:

Getting lowered into the water:

Floating in the sun:

Underway heading North towards Seattle:

When we left this morning at 5:45 it was 28F. Its warmer now at 43F but its been a long cold but exciting day. We'll post more pictures and details soon.

Saturday, December 05, 2009 6:04:34 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [17] - Trackback
 Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Nordhavn 5263 finally is en route from Asia, on board the Ever Ethic. The ship is scheduled to arrive into Tacoma on December 4th. We’ll still have weeks of commissioning before the boat actually is ours, but this definitely is a major milestone. A safe splash at Tacoma and an uneventful trip to the Emerald Harbor Marine docks will be another.

Our boat originally was scheduled to ship to Seattle from Xaimen between October 22-27th on the Dijksgracht, and that ship had been delayed until Nov 8th. Then the shipping company dropped the Seattle stop to more quickly deliver an emergency shipment of generator parts to a customer on the east coast. Fortunately, Nordhavn was able to get our boat on another ship only a week later. Rather than a direct shipment from Xiamen, however, our boat was first transported to Taiwan, then loaded onto the Ever Ethic bound for Los Angeles, Oakland and finally Tacoma. We're lucky that the delay was not a lot worse.

We've been watching the Ever Ethic's progress using, one of several sites that display ship locations using AIS data. You can view by vessel, port or general region. For example, this page shows all the reporting AIS vessels in and around Seattle.

The Ever Ethic no longer is within range now--it's somewhere in the Pacific. But we'll be looking for it near Los Angeles in a couple of weeks.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 5:29:52 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [9] - Trackback
 Friday, October 16, 2009

We just took delivery of the dinghy for our Nordhavn 52, an AB 12 VST with a 40HP Honda outboard. We’d ordered it a while back, and weren’t planning to take delivery at least until commissioning on the Nordhavn had started later this year. But we thought it would an efficient way to run back and forth between our winter moorage at Bell Harbor Marina, and Elliott Bay Marina, where Emerald Harbor Marine will be commissioning the boat. The two marinas aren’t that far apart (map of area), and, having sold the car, we’d been biking back and forth this past year without much trouble. But the bike trip does take time, and can be a uncomfortable in the rain. And Seattle does get the occasional winter storm. :)

The new dinghy is a real step up from our old 9-foot West Marine RIB with its 8 HP motor. The high seat back on the center console is very comfortable, and the deep-V hull and raised tubes make for a smooth, dry ride, even in near 30-knot winds. We can run between the marinas in less than 10 minutes, and there’s plenty of room for dive gear, or our bicycles on board. For now it will live behind our current boat at Bell Harbor until we mount it on the boat deck of the Nordhavn. It will be a tight fit—we’ve had removable rails installed along the starboard side of the boat deck to make that more workable.

We hadn’t needed a separate registration for our current dingy—we’d instead just numbered it with our main boat’s registration number appended with a “1”. Our current boat isn’t documented (partly because we weren’t US Citizens at the time we purchased it). But the new boat would be documented, and we weren’t sure what the impact would be, since documented vessels don’t display state registration numbers.

According to the USCG, “documentation of your vessel does not cover the vessel's tender or dinghy. These craft fall within the jurisdiction of the motorboat numbering laws of the state of principal use. Please contact your state agency that handles the registration or numbering of motorboats for further information.”

The new one, it turned out, would need to be registered separately. To be exempt from registration in Washington State, under RCW 88.02.030, the vessel must be:

  1. equipped with a motor less than 10 HP;
  2. owned by the owner of a vessel for which a valid vessel number has been issued;
  3. display the number of that numbered vessel followed by the suffix "1" in the manner prescribed by the department; and
  4. be used as a tender for direct transportation between that vessel and the shore and for no other purpose;

Even if the motor was less than 10HP, that direct transportation clause was a concern. In researching the registration requirements, we’d read about the Coast Guard questioning folks who were simply touring around in the dinghy and not using it for direct transport between the vessel and shore. And while out in the dingy near Point Defiance this summer, the Tacoma Police stopped us to verify the dinghy’s registration and confirm that we had all the required safety systems on board, including lifejackets and a whistle. It’s apparently a $280 fine not to not have the vessel properly registered, and they seemed eager to enforce it.

Because the new dinghy is less than 16 feet long, we didn’t have to pay the Watercraft Excise Tax, and the total bill was less than $40. The adhesive numbers we’d bought for the current dinghy hadn’t lasted well, so we are instead going to try this number plate system to display the registration.

Friday, October 16, 2009 2:47:17 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [4] - Trackback
 Saturday, September 26, 2009

Choices like engine brand are personal. We didn't make a Deere vs Lugger decision on our Nordhavn 52—we would have been happy with either. Although the high quality support offered by Lugger clearly is important, the reason why 5263 will have a John Deere main is that we wanted a little bit more power and Lugger didn’t produce one that would fit.

The Nordhavn 52 is a longer, heavier version of the Nordhavn 47, and we had heard from many Nordhavn 47 owners "wonderful boat, but I wish it was just a little faster." This is not a universal sentiment. Many hold the opposite view and argue that the boats would be better with less power. Nonetheless, many owners I respect wanted more speed, and this influenced our decision.

The arguments against higher horsepower include greater fuel consumption, increased engine weight and the risk of engine underload. What folks sometimes don't understand is that a 265 HP engine operating at 150 HP will consume very nearly the same fuel as a similarly designed engine rated at 165 HP also operating at 150 HP. Fuel consumption is driven by the horsepower produced, rather than the engine’s rated horsepower. And in this case, engine weight is not a factor. The Lugger 1066T.2 that is standard with the Nordhavn 47 and 52  is a marinized John Deere 6068—the same engine series that we are installing.

Some folks agree that a higher horsepower engine occasionally would be nice for increased speed, but argue that the additional horsepower rarely would be used. As a consequent, the main would spend much of its life very lightly loaded. There is no question that engines need to be run at the designed operating temperature to reach full life. My experience with 4,000 hours on my current Cummins engines is that
engines can be operated at very low HP outputs while still maintaining proper operating temperature. This, however, is a hotly debated topic. Personally, given the choice of 1) not having the power to achieve a speed-length ratio of at least 1.34 or 2) being able to achieve 1.34 but with the engines often operated at a lighter load, I prefer the second camp. And, I've seen more engines damaged by overload than under. But I don't discount the concern entirely. Boating is full of compromises and tough decisions.

In thinking through whether the 52 needed more horsepower, we calculated horsepower per thousand pounds across the Nordhavn fleet:

        N40: 3.30     (50,000 lb @ 165 HP)

        N43: 2.75     (60,000 lb @ 165 HP)

        N43: 1.75     (60,000 lb @ 105 HP original engine)

        N46: 1.75     (60,000 lb FD @ 105 HP)

        N47: 1.94     (85,000 lb FD @ 165 HP)

        N50: 3.75     (80,000 lb FD @ 300 HP)

        N55: 2.66     (124,500 lb FD @ 330 HP)

        N57: 2.66     (122,000 lb FD @ 325 HP)

        N62: 2.19     (155,000 lb FD @ 340 HP)


Note: Weights are based on published specs at the time we did the calculations. Some are full load (FD), others are ambiguous. It’s rare, however, that any boat weighs exactly what a manufacturer claims.


With the extended cockpit and flybridge, not to mention all the equipment we planned to install, the 52 would be a heavier boat that the 47. If we assume it would weigh 100,000 lbs fully loaded, the standard 165 HP would be make it the lowest powered boat in the fleet with a ratio of only 1.65 HP/1000 lbs. I've been on the original 43 with only 105 HP, and did not want to have less power to weight.

Lugger doesn't make a more powerful engine that will fit, so in this case, the decision was not really based on brand as much as output requirements. We went with a keel-cooled John Deere 265HP
6068AFM75. This provides 2.65 HP/1000 lbs, which is just about identical to the Nordhavn 55 and 57, although still less than the 50. As an added bonus, the 6068AFM75 is 14% more efficient at rated output, is more efficient across the operating range, and is closer to a continuous duty engine than the Lugger 1066T.2.

Saturday, September 26, 2009 9:29:25 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [16] - Trackback
 Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Xiamen is a popular destination with Chinese nationals, but less so with foreigners. Although we were there for three days, we didn't get a chance to see much of the city. We spent most of our time at the South Coast Marine boat yard as the final details were being completed of what would become our new boat. We had a great time, learned a lot, and really enjoyed ourselves.

Read more ... 

Tuesday, September 08, 2009 10:03:07 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [2] - Trackback
Nordhavn | Off the Water
 Saturday, August 01, 2009

We’ll be taking a brief hiatus from blogging during the first three weeks of August. Tomorrow we leave for China. You might wonder why we would go to China during the hottest time of the year. For example, our first stop, Xiamen, is expected to hit 95F today, which is fairly typical weather for this time of year (actually its comparable to the unusual weather we’ve been having in Seattle over the last week). The timing of the trip is driven by a boat we’re buying, nearing completion in the Xiamen China boat yard: Boat Progress. The goal is to see the boat roughly 90% complete so we can catch any issues early and get them fixed before the boat leaves the yard. And, part of the adventure of building a boat, is to get a chance to visit the yard and see how they are built.


We love boating and, having software jobs, we work a lot. Consequently, the time we do get off, we spend boating between Olympia, Washington and Alaska. Since we seldom have the time for non-boat related travel, we figured we should take advantage of visiting China and see more than just the boat yard. 


After the stop at the boat yard in Xiamen, we’ll visit Hong Kong, Guilin, Yangshou, Chengdu, and do a cruise of the Yangtze River and then travel to Xian followed by Beijing before returning home.  




Saturday, August 01, 2009 3:13:37 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [1] - Trackback
 Monday, July 20, 2009

The roof is now on the pilot house of new Dirona, and other exterior work is progressing. But the most obvious progress is inside, where many of the changes that we've specified are taking shape. We'll be visiting the yard in Xiamen in early August to see it in person.

One of our early challenges was to install a day head. The standard day head design was to replace the stacked washer dryer, shown behind the louvered door just starboard of the steps to the pilot house in the top right picture below. Instead of stacked washer/dryer, a combo unit would be installed in the pilot house. We had initially considered this design, but preferred a separate washer/dryer and didn't want to give up space in the pilot house either, so were going to install the washer/dryer on the starboard side of the guest stateroom. This would chew up a lot of storage space however, and getting the units in and out for service would be tricky. Later we came up with a design where the day head tucks into a nook aft of the washer/dryer, with a sliding door that closes off the whole area. We mocked up the space to using tape and a stool and felt there would be just enough room. It looks like it will work nicely.


In the salon area, we added a wall forward of the starboard settee to enclose the day head into a small room. One problem with this design is that location is the standard place for a TV lift. So we instead installed the TV on the port side, as we'd deleted the port settee. With more width available, we were able to install a 46" TV.


We've made a bunch of changes to the galley, some shown in the pictures below. The original design for the aft galley counter has a cabinet starboard of the sink, then the dishwasher, then a stack of small drawers and then the trash compacter. We shifted the dishwasher to be next to the garbage compacter and joined the drawers and the cabinet next to the sink into a single wide unit with a deep, wide drawer on the bottom, a shallow wide draw above, and a single small drawer next to the sink basin (top right picture below). Our last two houses have had deep, wide drawers like this in lieu of cabinets, and it allows much greater flexibility on storage and better use of the space. The bottom right picture is of the stove area. We replaced a stack of small drawers to the right of the stove with a single drawer and a cabinet below with a divider for storing long flat items such as cookie trays and cutting boards.


The pilot house and the settee are taking shape as well. We've not made many change there.


Normally the guest stateroom has open shelves above the desk. We've instead specified cabinets with locker doors to give us more enclosed storage space. We widened the desk slightly to make up for some of the space lost to the cabinets. And we widened the guest stateroom bed to give more room at the foot of the bed.


The engine is in place under a tarp, with the fuel tanks on either side, but not much else has been installed in either the engine room or the lazarette. The lazaratte has a ton of space, but we'll soon have it and the engine room stuffed with equipment. Jeremy Henderson, our project manager at Nordhavn, jokes that we're trying to sink the boat.


Monday, July 20, 2009 11:00:13 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [6] - Trackback
 Monday, June 15, 2009

We often get asked, why do you boat or what do you do out there?  Our answers revolve around experiencing nature and exploring new areas. We enjoy talking about what we have found in our book, Cruising the Secret Coast, and in the blog we maintain.

Recently John Marshall, who owns Nordhavn 55 Serendipity, posted one of best answers we’ve seen to “why we cruise?”  With John’s permission, it follows.

The remarkable thing about cruising on a boat like this is that we can go to truly isolated places and enjoy nature in its rawest and most primal (and beautiful) form, and still have every comfort of home.

Sometimes when I step outside the warm, bright confines of the boat at night and stand out there just listening to the wild, with the boat completely silent, the contrast gives me goose bumps. Inside is 5-star elegance. Outside is wild, cold, primal, uncompromising wilderness. It's a very bizarre but wonderful kind of transition that occurs in seconds, allowing me as much of either as suits my mood at the moment.

I've turned off the TV after watching a movie with the HD plasma screen and sound system delivering a performance that's as good as any theater, and then stepped outside the boat to find myself standing in the absolutely silent wilderness, without another human being around for tens of miles. A largely untouched wildness of wolves and bears and nature at its finest.

The closest equivalent would be a cabin in the deep woods or high on a mountain side in a wild area. Except you can't build cabins in places like national parks or many other wilderness areas, and you can't push a button and move them to someplace else.

Anyway, it’s a mix of perceptions and images and sensations that carry me away every day we're out. I've journeyed many places in the world, lived in far-away lands for many years, traveled in RV's, backpacked through the Rockies, climbed many peaks in my younger years, and the closest analogy to this feeling is when I was an avid backpacker and could carry my "house on my back". A snug tent and warm sleeping bag.

Inside my tent, reading a book with a flashlight, I was largely protected from the elements that might be raging outside. Yet one step outside my tent, and the wilderness I had to walk through to get back to civilization was uncompromising. There was no 9-11 to call if I got in trouble.

This boat in Alaska or northern BC is kind of a 5-star equivalent of that. What is common to my backpacking, however, is that despite all the comforts and the gadgets, you can't let yourself forget that you are on a little boat in a big sea and a deep wilderness far from anyone who could help you, and that piece of chain that leads to the bottom is never completely secure.

That's where the comparison to a 5-star hotel or cabin in the woods breaks down. On a boat, we are always voyaging, even when we're anchored in a snug cove. We might turn off the DVD and shut down the cappuccino maker and go to the comfort of our warm bed, crawling under the down blankets, but toss in 40 knots of unexpected wind, fog and driving rain in the middle of the night, and combine that with a dragging anchor, and that DVD and the plasma TV and the surround sound are suddenly completely meaningless toys.

Now its engines and rudders and windlasses and working on deck in the violent conditions and you are suddenly a seaman fighting the cruel sea for your very survival, just as sailors have had to do for millennium.

You have awoken from being cradled in 21st century luxury to find yourself in the midst of an adventure, and only your own skills and those of your mate or crew will take you to safety.

I truly believe that its adventures and unexpected challenges like this that keep us alive and young at heart.

Monday, June 15, 2009 7:34:59 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [0] - Trackback
Nordhavn | On the Water
 Sunday, May 17, 2009

The house and hull for new Dirona came out of the mold a few weeks back and have now been joined together. In the top left picture below, our three engines await installation. From right to left: main engine, John Deer 6068AFM75; wing engine, Lugger 40HP Lugger L844D; and generator, 12 kW Northern Lights.



The boat has a lot of height to gain—the flybridge, stack, and boat deck are still in the mold. The stack will be installed with a tabernacle hinge so that it can be lowered or removed completely, using a Travel Lift. We’re hoping to be able to reduce the air draft enough to clear the lowest fixed bridge along the Great Loop: the 19’1” AT&S Railroad Bridge on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.

Sunday, May 17, 2009 6:00:19 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [8] - Trackback
 Sunday, April 26, 2009

Our next boat came out of the mold a few weeks back at the South Coast Marine shipyard in Xiamen, China. The yard is efficient in moving the big molds and hulls around. The time between the first picture and the last in the first set below is less than an hour.




The interior has begun to take shape as bulkheads are installed. The bottom photos show the port-side fuel tank. The forward section of the fuel tank, with a gap below, is an extension that gives the Nordhavn 52 an extra 100 gallons per side over the 47.




Sunday, April 26, 2009 5:01:51 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [10] - Trackback
 Sunday, April 12, 2009

Last Friday I visited the engine for our new boat (next boat). It’s a John Deere 6068AFM75 M2. The standard engine in the Nordhavn 47 and 52 series is a Lugger L1066T.2 with a ZF220A gearbox. Both are great, long lasting components. We chose to move to the John Deere 6068 to get a bit more horsepower, a closer to continuous rating, and increased fuel efficiency. 


On the horsepower front, we moved from the 165 HP of the Lugger 1066 up to 266 HP of the John Deere 6068. The Lugger is a Medium duty rating where the maximum cruise is 200 RPM off of the rated RPM.  It’s not designed to be run at the full 165 HP continuously.  The 6068 is rated at 266 HP and is a M2 rating meaning it can run at 266HP for up to 16 hours in 24 and it can run at 231 HP continuously, without break for the life of the engine. 266HP is arguably more than the boat needs but I like lots of head room and an under stressed engine.


Looking at efficiency, the Lugger produces 165 HP while consuming 9.6 Gal/hour (see which means that it produces 17.188 HP/Gal/hour at rated output. The John Deere produces 266 HP while burning 13.5 Gal/hour (see which means that it produces 19.703 HP/Gal/hour at rated output. The increase in efficiency of 2.515 HP/gal/hour sounds like a small increment but it actually represents a full 14% improvement. 


A 14% reduction in fuel consumption, if realized over the life of the boat represents substantial savings. But, what we find even more interesting is the potential lengthening of the cruising range. +14% is like adding 205 gallons of fuel to the standard 1470 gallons. Engine efficiency varies with RPM and output but manufactures typically only publish numbers for rated output and show curves for the rest.  Matching curves is less precise but it appears matching curves that the advantage of the 6068 is maintained at all cruising output levels.  Given that the 6068 has an aftercooler, we expect higher efficiency. The potential downside is one more component to service.


Essentially both the Deere and the Lugger are the same engine. They both use exactly the same base John Deere industrial engine and both are great engines differing only in optimization points and the 6068 is somewhat more expensive. As with all things marine, decisions like these are a balancing act, there is no one right answer, but we like the set of trade-offs offered by the 6068 and so went with it for this boat.


The new engine produces sufficiently more power that the ZF220A gear box is no longer acceptable. We moved up to the ZF305-2 for this application. It’s a beast.  More than required but it ended up being the best fit with sufficient capacity and I love having more capacity than needed in the mechanical systems.


Our 6068 was at Cascade Engine Center near Seattle last week to have the high output alternators installed and to prepare the engine to Nordhavn’s specifications for installation into the 52. I took some pictures of it in final test prior to being air freighted to China next Tuesday. Ironically it’ll be returning to Seattle on the deck of a freighter when the boat is delivered later this year.







Overall, I like the drive belt as layout installed by Cascade, the engine looks good, runs quietly, and produces close to no smoke even when cold starting. I hope it does as well in service as it looks during its initial test runs.



James Hamilton,

Sunday, April 12, 2009 9:50:45 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [0] - Trackback
 Friday, March 20, 2009


For many years, we’ve been planning to buy a world-capable trawler as our next boat. Dirona is ideal for extended cruising in the Pacific Northwest while we are working, and we expected to purchase the next boat when we retired and had time for longer-range cruising, perhaps in a decade or so. The plan was that this next boat would be our final boat, built solidly enough that it would outlive us.

We’ve been interested in a Nordhavn as that boat since way back in 2001, when we first requested in information packet from PAE. We eventually realized that if this boat were going to outlive us, it made more sense to get it sooner and enjoy it for an extra ten years, rather than wait until we retired. So last year we purchased Nordhavn 5263.

The Nordhavn 52 is an enhanced 47. Standard upgrades include a 5-foot cockpit extension, a 2-foot boat deck extension, a restyled flybridge and 200 gallons additional fuel capacity. The boat molded a few weeks ago, and we expect to take delivery this winter. We’ll post more details as the project progresses.



Friday, March 20, 2009 1:51:09 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [2] - Trackback
 Sunday, February 15, 2009

Early this morning the commercial ship Amazon River arrived in Seattle from China. Part of the Amazon River's cargo was a cross-section of the current Nordhavn line: a 43, a 52, and a 68. The 52 was the first Nordhavn 52 in what I fully expect will be a very successful new line of Nordhavns. It was fun to see it on its inaugural US sailing.


The Nordhavn 68 in no-load form displaces 156 thousand pounds so its considerably heavier than the standard container that these cranes normally host off deck or from below. What follows is the launching of the 68 but all three followed the same procedure. The crane lowered four chains that are attached to the cradle that mounts the boat to the deck. The entire boat and cradle assembly is then carefully raised, shifted out beyond the ship to the water, and then lowered to the water.  As the boat lands in the water, a small craft drops off a couple of crew members. As they arrive on the boat, they first check to ensure the boat is watertight and safe, then inspect the mechanical systems before starting the boat.  With the engine running and the boat safe to sail, the crane lowers it another few feet allowing the boat to float off the cradle.  Then the boat is  backed free of the cradle and sailed to the commissioning port.  In this case, Elliott Bay Marina in Seattle.



All three vessels will be commissioned by Emerald Harbor Marine under the supervision of PAE project managers. We have a slip in Elliott Bay so we’ll be seeing lots of these three boats as we go back and forth.


Sunday, February 15, 2009 6:12:23 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [8] - Trackback

Our cruising guide, Waggoner sister publication Cruising the Secret Coast, is available at local bookstores and online. Click book image for details.

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